[Analysis] The Reliques of Tolti-Aph (long)

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Dan Shiovitz

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Apr 12, 2006, 2:29:49 AM4/12/06
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I've tagged this as an analysis rather than a review because it's not
my usual game review thing. Instead, it's more of a "principles of
craft in practice" game-design essay, using Reliques extensively for
examples. I should make it clear that this is extremely spoilery and
shouldn't be read until you've played the game.

As usual, it's archived on my website; if you're reading more than a
few days after it was posted, there may be a newer version at
http://www.drizzle.com/~dans/if/rota.html

Anyway, onwards:

I realize that tastes differ and people like different stuff in IF and
all that, but I think that The Reliques of Tolti-Aph is a very, very
bad game. Unlike most bad games, it has a perfectly serviceable premise
and setting and so on, and of course Graham Nelson is a fine writer.
But the actual game design is ghastly. It's so bad I am almost inclined
to think the mistakes are deliberate, although a more realistic answer
is that it's the usual combination of sloppy work and total lack of
concern for the player's perspective. However, the catalog of
game-design crimes in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph does have one major
upside: discussing them provides a great applied primer in Things Not
To Do In Your IF Game. So this isn't going to be a review in the
standard sense -- instead, it's a spoiler-heavy analysis for
people who've already played the game.


DISABLING UNDO AND LIMITING SAVES

The most glaring problem in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph (not the worst
problem -- I'll get to that one later) is that it disables undo. I
don't have much new to say here about why this is lame (feel free to
look at my review of Negotis), but I do want to point out that this is
a good example of how game-design elements interact. Normally, a room
like the swamp where going the wrong direction kills you is no big
deal -- you read the death message, type undo, and then go the
correct way. But when undo is disabled, then going the wrong direction
in the swamp is suddenly a big production, and you have to jump back to
your last save point. Some people's reaction here is "Oh, but that just
reminds you that the swamp is dangerous and you have to be careful!"
These people need to be kicked in the shins, and laughed at the next
time they typo "w" when they meant "e".

Similarly, the game requires you to solve a puzzle (possibly even
several puzzles) to earn the ability to save, and you can only create a
savepoint a limited number of times (three, according to David
Welbourn's detailed walkthrough). This does in some sense "fix" the
first problem that comes up with just disabling undo, where people say
"well, fine, I'll just save all the time then, if you won't let me
undo," but this is like fixing a leak in the sink by burning down the
kitchen. By limiting the save command, you force people to replay the
beginning of the game over and over again until they solve the initial
puzzles necessary to save. Some people will do this -- when I was
younger and had way more free time, I once played a game that had save
*disabled entirely* -- but in general, every time you end the game
and the player doesn't have a recent saved game, you're losing some
noticeable fraction of the audience.

The save and undo restrictions are presented as necessary in order to
fix issues that would otherwise arise due to the random
combat/skill-check system. In general, when you find yourself as an
author saying "well, I guess I'll have to make things more tedious and
less fun for the player so that they can't circumvent this other design
decision", that should be a big red flag. Stop and reconsider the other
design decision -- is it really adding much to the game? Is it
adding enough to outweigh the annoyance to the player? If you have to
do it, can you minimize the annoyance at all? For instance, an obvious
way to minimize the annoyance in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph would have
been to restrict save and undo *inside combat only*.

Yes, they could still restore a saved game after dying and retry combat
immediately, but right now they can do almost the same, by running from
their last savepoint to the combat. And yes, they can undo failed skill
checks that don't result in combat, but by my count there are only two
of those: climbing the ropes to the archivist (which is trivial with
the spell, and requires you to be level 5 otherwise), and climbing the
outcrop in the river (which is a badly-done puzzle anyway -- more
about this later). Allowing undo to handle these would be just fine for
the first skill check, and would clue the author in that the second is
poorly designed and should be modified.


BOTTLENECKS AND SETTING GOALS

One of the most important things to keep in mind as an author is that
players have no idea how the game is going to play out. They don't know
what their goal is, they don't know where the interesting areas of the
game are, and they don't know what puzzles need to be solved first. To
help the player out with this, you-the-author have two basic tools. You
can set the player a goal and say "hey, go do this", and you can set up
a bottleneck and say "you can't do this yet". The Reliques of Tolti-Aph
is astonishingly bad at the former. It's one of the few games I've
played where the overall goal of the game (to become a level 5 mage) is
only explained in an error message (if you try to leave the city). Most
players are good sports and will wander around solving puzzles just
because they're there, but this doesn't mean having an overall goal is
unimportant. For instance, in this case, knowing you need to get to
level 5 means you should try to get as many experience points as
possible, which means you need to make sure to do all the semi-tedious
things like making sure to cast each spell twice, and fighting monsters
if possible rather than avoiding them.

The game is slightly better on the bottleneck issue, since there's the
wyvern sitting at the halfway point, and it soon becomes obvious that
you should work on all the stuff down below first and then you'll be
beefy enough to take on the wyvern. But that's pretty much it --
once you get past the wyvern the game will cheerfully allow you to
charge into the maze despite being too low-level to take it on, or the
Old School cellar despite not having the magic missile spell. One of
the major problems with Enchanter-style games is that the player can be
confronted with a puzzle where it's not clear if the puzzle needs to be
solved with clever lateral thinking, or if there is some specific spell
that needs to be used that the player doesn't have yet.

Good game design in this sort of game means setting up bottlenecks to
ensure players have a certain spell before they get to the part of the
game where it's vital. One way to do this might be to get rid of the
dragon sleep spell, and thus force the player to fight the wyvern with
the web spell -- this would make sure they have web before they get to
the archivist's temple. I'm not sure what sort of puzzle you'd come up
with to require magic missile before the dead-end in the Old School
cellar, but presumably you could have something flammable you need to
destroy, or a monster that is especially and obviously vulnerable to
the spell.

This undirectedness is less of a problem for the game in the smaller
scale, partly because the game handles things better there and partly
because small-scale undirectedness doesn't stop the action entirely.
For instance, there's no clue where to use the infravision spectacles,
but, ok, the player can just wear them and wander around, and when they
find out they'll find out -- not knowing doesn't block off major
portions of the game. Similarly, it would be nice if the room
description in the ziggurat mentioned that there are exits on four
sides for dumb people like me who assume it only has a north and south
exit, but this is something people will eventually notice on their own.

There are a few decent bottlenecks near the beginning of the
game -- the combat with the group of goblins is pretty much
unwinnable without being able to cast make sanctuary and being of a
certain level, so it makes sure those have happened. But overall, The
Reliques of Tolti-Aph is a good reminder that authors have a
responsibility to give some direction to players if they want to avoid
player frustration.


SUBSYSTEMS IN GENERAL

This will no doubt startle people who have read this far, but I do like
how the game has a number of interconnected subsystems the player can
learn about. It is a cool idea to have both a combat system and a magic
system, and the player and PC can get more skilled in each, and, best
of all, they're tied together by different resources. There's a direct
connection in that both magic and combat draw off the hit point pool,
which leads to interesting choices to make about using magic in
combat -- do I spend X hp casting this spell to possibly avoid Y
damage in combat?

Similarly, there's an indirect connection created because the magic
system requires spell components and the combat system requires new
weapons and armor. You can use the silence spell to get a new weapon
and armor, and you can fight the goblins to get new spell components.
This is cool because the rewards for solving a puzzle enhance the
breadth of the player's powers, and not so much the depth. It's also
cool because someone who's better at fighting can get further on the
fighting puzzles and use those to help themselves along on the magic
ones, and vice versa.

Having said all that, you will not be surprised to hear that I have a
number of quibbles about the specific implementations of the two
subsystems.


RANDOM COMBAT AND SKILL CHECKS

The Reliques of Tolti-Aph gets off to a good start, game-design wise,
by saying roughly "things are set up to be random, but in general, if
it turns out you can only beat something by repeatedly trying, you're
doing it wrong." This is a great principle for people who include
randomness in their games, and it is too bad that The Reliques of
Tolti-Aph so rarely sticks to it. For instance, take the fight with the
four goblins: it's quite difficult (and unlikely) to beat them without
running away mid-fight. So is the solution to assume you're doing it
wrong, go away, and find an appropriate spell to beat them? No, of
course not -- it's to run away mid-fight and retry until you win.

Or consider the marsh wraith on the pontoon, where it's difficult to
fight but there is a spell to beat it easily (satisfying the
principle) -- but, unfortunately, a good portion of the time it'll
kill the PC as soon as the room is entered, making it impossible to use
the spell. And since save is so limited, people's natural reactions
will be to shy away until they find the nonexistent other ways of
beating the wraith or entering the room.

There are similar miscues in the skill system. The outcrop in the river
requires a roll of 15 or better, and there's no solution other than
retrying until you succeed, taking damage each time. The werespiders,
on the other hand, require a roll of 17 or better, and the expected
solution is to use the silence spell. This isn't a totally exact
comparison, since you have to make multiple checks to get past the
werespiders, but the player doesn't know that initially. Another
irritating thing about the outcrop is it can turn into a dead
end -- if you climb up with only a few hit points (not unlikely if
you've been repeatedly trying to climb, since the lack of undo makes it
irritating to do otherwise), you may find yourself either stuck or
dying on the climb back down, since that causes damage also.

Really, this is all a solved problem and has been for some time. The
solution is, don't use random combat and skill checks because they're
dumb. You can look on google groups for discussion from 1995 about
randomness being bad. 1995! Over ten years ago! While it's possible to
add randomness to combat-type situations in an interesting way, the
trick is to put it in at a higher level, and create a dynamic situation
for the player to have to react to. The success or failure of a single
command by the player should always be non-random; the challenge comes
from picking what the correct action to do is, not from retyping it
until it succeeds.


SPELLS AND SPELLCASTING

In contrast to the combat system, which is fairly clearly explained in
the about text and the game feelie, the spell system is awful to work
out for new players. There's your journal, but you have to hunt through
the feelie to find out the cryptic keywords to use to look up entries,
and the entries are presented out of order, and half of them are
unhelpful anyway. If someone is used to Enchanter-type games they'll
presumably be able to work out >MEMORIZE and >SPELLS on their own, but
then they'll be confused when it turns out you can't cast spells from
scrolls, that casting spells drains strength, and that memorizing a
spell means something totally different in this game.

It's absolutely vital that you explain major subsystems right off the
bat to the player. If they're important enough, have a tutorial
section or something, with a command summary in the about text. This
is especially true when it works kind of like another system, but with
important differences -- the about text should make the differences
clear (though it also shouldn't *assume* people are familiar with the
original, unless that's really necessary).

Spell components are another good idea poorly implemented. There seems
to be some design confusion over whether the purpose of a component is
to provide a pre-puzzle you need to solve before being able to cast the
spell (like the sanctuary spell), whether it's intended to limit the
number of times you can cast a powerful spell (like summon elemental),
or whether it's just to be irritating (like magelight). I call out the
last as a special category, since a large part of the time, it seems
like the main purpose of components in this game is to have you
accidentally run out of the thing you need, making the game unwinnable.
It's like the old-time games that had a lantern with a battery, and if
you wasted too many turns, the battery ran out, and ha ha, you're
screwed. This isn't like Journey, where figuring out which components
to conserve was part of the game meta-puzzle. It's purely a device to
punish the player for casting fashion staff too many times.

The auto-selection of components to use up can be a problem too --
sometimes I was annoyed that the game destroyed something I wanted to
keep, and there was no clear rule for how it picked (and, again,
because undo is disabled, it's not easy to deal with surprises like
this from the game). Games shouldn't include auto-selection unless it's
going to be completely smooth for the player, either because the player
can override the game's selection, or because the things it's
auto-selecting between really are indistinguishable.

The >SPELLS listing is kind of a mixed bag. I appreciate that there's a
separate command to just list the spells, but it's just irritating at
the end of the game to have inventory list all your items and then 20
spells so the actual item list scrolls off-screen. The design point
here is that it's important to remember how things will look both at
the beginning and end of the game -- if you have lots of useless
items for the player to pick up, are they going to hate you at the end
of the game when their inventory is three pages? It's also good that
the spells list gives spell type, cost, and material component
required, but where's the spell description? The PC knows how fashion
staff works, but I don't, and figuring out the mechanics of that is not
a fair puzzle to give the player (especially when, as mentioned above,
casting it too many times while experimenting can make the game
unwinnable). When the spell uses up a limited component, like force
labyrinth, the experience is even worse.

Finally, I feel like the particular spells that were included need some
editing. There are a number of spells that you learn so late in the
game that they're rarely useful (corruption, summon elemental,
ironbones). This is especially true with summon elemental, which
consumes its material component, so how many times are you really going
to be able to use it? Other spells feel clunky because they're only
there for a single puzzle, like silence and dragon sleep. A second use,
like there is for aerial shield and web, goes a long way towards making
a feature not seem like a deus ex machina. Not all the spells are bad
about this, I should add -- mend, in particular, probably has a
dozen uses and is extremely fun to experiment with (which encourages
players to try spells on different items in the game, which is very
important in this style of game). A few more spells with as many
applications would have been very nice.


MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES

There are a handful of things I haven't touched on yet in The Reliques
of Tolti-Aph that seem like they're worth some discussion from a
game-design perspective. To start off with, here is the promised worst
thing in the game:

>PRAY
You prepare yourself with due solemnity, and yet - and yet - you
sense somehow that the proper words must be used, if the prayer
is to be answered.

>PRAY BEGONE BLEAK DAYS OF DROWNING TIME
I only understood you as far as wanting to pray.

>PRAY YOU LOOSE-ROAMING CLOUDS BE WITH ME -
I only understood you as far as wanting to pray you loose-ro clouds
be with me.

>PRAY YOU LOOSE-ROAMING CLOUDS BE WITH ME
Communing in this special place with the swirling clouds - but was
this not, a moment before, a clear autumnal sky - you feel seized
with a sense of purpose and ability.

I am awestruck by how bad this is. What possible clue is there that you
should keep trying other text when the initial pray attempts all end in
failure? And it's not encouraging failure either, but cold, indifferent
sir-I-do-not-know-you parser failure. If the player tries anything
close to right, they should never get a parser failure -- that
signals that not only are you doing the wrong thing, but you're on the
wrong track entirely.

This passage also points out another irritating thing, where the game
teaches you a spell without telling you that's what it's doing. Since
a new spell represents a substantial increase in the player's
capabilities and probably allows access to new areas, it's very
important to make it clear when it's happened (and given that The
Reliques of Tolti-Aph happily tells you "You progress to level 3!",
you'd think it could also let you know that you learned a new spell).
Speaking of spells, this is a personal preference, but I don't approve
of getting experience for the first two times you cast a spell. In
general, people expect things to do something only the first time, or
every time (or, rarely, three times); if you make it happen twice, they
will assume it'll happen every time.

The song on the loom is another game-design decision which seems to be
there purely to irritate the player. The first time, >SING SONG pops up
a quotebox with the lyrics of the song, giving a clue. After that, it
doesn't print the quotebox. This is such a bad idea -- players
have the right to see clues as many times as they want (in some
situations they could undo to see the clue again, but of course that's
disabled). I'm not fond of this clue anyway, since it doesn't seem to
me that there's much reason to think it applies both to the painting
and the loom itself, given that neither is obviously hiding something.
People are likely to find one application of >TURN, assume that's all
the clue is there for, and miss the the other.

With the large number of traps in the game, it's frustrating how seldom
the player can do anything about them. The most grievous error is in
the worst possible place, the first room of the game. People are likely
to cast detect trap as they're trying out their spells, see that
there's a trap on the doorway, and then beat their head against the
puzzle of trying to disable that trap. But the actual best course of
action for a new player is to just ignore the detection message, walk
through the doorway, ignore the "I bet there was a way to avoid that
trap" message, and go on with the game -- because while you can
avoid the trap, it's a totally complicated puzzle, and almost no new
player is going to find it. And forget trying to poke a stick in the
doorway or something to set off the trap -- there's only the one
pain in the ass way of doing it, which doesn't even require detecting
the trap in the first place.

The description of the starting room in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph is a
good reminder about how important it is to ease the player into things.
I've seen a number of people start up the game, collide with the room
description, and come to a confused halt. I think the main problem is
that it starts out badly. The first sentence is colorful but has no
information useful to the player for navigation or getting their
bearings, and indeed it mentions "east" and "west" but not as part of
laying out what's in those directions. Obviously this is mostly a style
thing, and there is a place for fancy room descriptions -- it's as
a reward for getting past obstacles, like the top of the ziggurat.
Early in the game, clarity absolutely has to win over style, or the
player will be overwhelmed.

The maze is a big enough deal in the game that it seems like it needs
its own gripe section. Trouble starts almost immediately once you're
in. The natural reaction by this point in the game is to use a spell to
try to get one of the leaves, since physical actions are so often
ineffective or unimplemented (see the earlier point about trying to
disarm traps with a stick). Once you get the quest, then you know what
you have to do. Of course, knowing and doing it are two different
things -- some are trivial, like slaying a monster on level 4, and
some are almost impossible without extensive research on the maze in
previous games, like finding Eurydice. The random assignment of quests
is a serious pain, and the player has no idea that they vary so wildly
in difficulty, so they're likely to get discouraged after a failed
playthrough with one.

And they're likely to fail maze playthroughs, a lot. I assume the
"magic user has run out of maze!" bit is some limit imposed by the
Z-Machine's dynamic object creation stuff, but it feels totally
inexplicable, and it actually penalizes people for sensible behavior
(you're better off charging ahead into the deeper parts of the maze
rather than carefully exploring each level, because you only have a
limited number of rooms you can enter). Plus there's the whole thing
about some exits being blocked for no good reason. You can force that
with the force labyrinth spell (which, again, you learn without the
game telling you that you learned it), but that's expensive in terms of
components and is unlikely to help a huge amount.

Then if you survive for a while and *don't* hit the room limit, the
maze is going to get boring fast. You might not win your quest, but
the monsters in the maze become just experience-point prizes once
you've found a few of the magic items in the maze. This just isn't
balanced, and it's not particularly fun. It'd be one thing if it was
an optional puzzle that was clearly marked "for experts only" or
something, but no, going in is pretty much required if you want to get
to 5th level.

It seems appropriate to close this essay by talking about the game's
ending. Man, what a lousy way to finish. First off, there's no "hey,
you hit level 5, you win!" message when you hit level 5, or even a "you
can leave the city now!". You just have to remember that's the point of
the game, go back to the entrance, and leave. At which point you get an
anticlimactic message about how you won, hooray, PS you're still kind
of a loser. Gee, thanks. This is, again, the sort of thing that could
have been fixed relatively easily. The maze is already the hardest
thing in the game, and the game already says that the maze was the old
testing-ground for mages, so how about making the goal of the game to
solve a quest in the maze? Put the you-have-won bit when you emerge
from the maze, and it'll come at a point in the narrative when the
player feels like they've really accomplished something. Given that
this is a try-stuff-randomly kind of game you don't have to end the
game there absolutely, but you at least have to make it clear that this
was the climax, you've won, you can keep playing or leave the city as
you like.


CONCLUSION

So, yeah, I dunno. There's some decent stuff in The Reliques of
Tolti-Aph I haven't touched on -- I was particularly fond of the
puzzle for getting past the sand-filled passage, and the writing is
definitely charming in spots. But overall, man, it is honestly hard for
me to understand why someone would release something like this, with
design decisions that seem only there to be irritating. If this was
"Annoyotron, Special I7 Edition" that'd be one thing, but as it is, I
don't get it. Still, I'm definitely glad I've played it. Zarf's games,
for instance, are not particularly useful from a design-analysis
perspective because they work so smoothly -- there aren't any
seams to pick out how the individual parts work. This game, on the
other hand, is all seams and misfit parts, but it's just that quality
that makes it interesting to talk about.

--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW

Jacek Pudlo

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Apr 12, 2006, 4:37:09 AM4/12/06
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"Dan Shiovitz"

[analysis]

Cogent arguments, clear and precise language, evocative and fun similes --
an excellent, well-written analysis. It will get you ousted from the Central
Committee, but you must know that. I don't think complimenting Plotkin (out
of the blue) will save your ass.

Anyway, I recommend Dan's analysis of _Reliques..._ as essential critical
reading for anyone interested in IF design.


David Whyld

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Apr 12, 2006, 5:55:03 AM4/12/06
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Dan Shiovitz wrote:
> I've tagged this as an analysis rather than a review because it's not
> my usual game review thing. Instead, it's more of a "principles of
> craft in practice" game-design essay, using Reliques extensively for
> examples. I should make it clear that this is extremely spoilery and
> shouldn't be read until you've played the game.
>


You clearly spent a lot longer on the game than I did... not difficult,
actually, because as soon as I found out that SAVE and UNDO were
disabled, I promptly quit. If there was a list called "Things You
Should NEVER Do In A Game", disabling SAVE would be right at the top
of it. Disabling UNDO would be close behind. Disabling them both in the
same game ought to get the writer lynched. The list would probably also
contain things like 'random = bad' and 'random combat = even
worse'. Stick them all together in a game and you've got all the
ingredients necessary to make the poorest IF game of the year.

Overall, this seems like the kind of game that would normally receive
widespread disdain from the handful of people who played it, and be
completely ignored by everyone else... except, of course, that it's
written by *the* Graham Nelson and thus will receive far more
discussion than it deserves.

steve....@gmail.com

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Apr 12, 2006, 8:02:50 AM4/12/06
to
Dan Shiovitz wrote:
> This game [...] is all seams and misfit parts, but it's just that quality

> that makes it interesting to talk about.

Two points. But first, thanks for a great lesson in game-design, even
if it is more-or-less a refresher course.

Okay, first I personally enjoy this not only as a good critique of a
little game, but as a great example of how to go about critique in the
first place, and by extension, an implicit critique of mordant negative
criticism, which is a temptation for some of us. In any case, an
inspiration well beyond what you say about the particular game, or the
particular design points.

Second, I would like to (*gasp*) defend the game against a number of
criticisms your. I mean, you're correct in all your points, and there's
no need to get into the details because I agree with them all. But
generally, I appreciate the spirit of experiment, of
knowing-the-dangers-but-doing-it-anyway courage the author displays.
Perhaps I'm reading it a bit too charitably, but I think not entirely.

We can't develop our genre without boldly writing in the fact of the
apparent limitations. I have said that I wanted from Graham an honest
failure, and perhaps I got it much sooner than I expected.

Jimmy Maher

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Apr 12, 2006, 9:02:50 AM4/12/06
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Dan Shiovitz wrote:

> I realize that tastes differ and people like different stuff in IF and
> all that, but I think that The Reliques of Tolti-Aph is a very, very
> bad game. Unlike most bad games, it has a perfectly serviceable premise
> and setting and so on, and of course Graham Nelson is a fine writer.
> But the actual game design is ghastly. It's so bad I am almost inclined
> to think the mistakes are deliberate, although a more realistic answer
> is that it's the usual combination of sloppy work and total lack of
> concern for the player's perspective. However, the catalog of
> game-design crimes in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph does have one major
> upside: discussing them provides a great applied primer in Things Not
> To Do In Your IF Game. So this isn't going to be a review in the
> standard sense -- instead, it's a spoiler-heavy analysis for
> people who've already played the game.

I don't really disagree with anything that you said, but I still had
some fun with the game in a perverse sort of way, even as I wondered why
Graham Nelson was suddenly embracing Paul Panks' game design philosophy.
A couple of additional notes to add to your list:

Maybe this was just me, but I had no freaking idea for the longest time
that I could sleep inside my little sanctuary to regain my strength.
This of course made a difficult game impossible (although I am surprised
how far I actually got before stumbling over the ability to sleep.)
This just seems to me like the sort of thing that really should be
prominently mentioned somewhere in the about text or opening text.

Around this point, I realized that the game wasn't going to play fair,
so I lost all desire to play it in good faith. It had pissed me off at
this point, and it was war. So I ruthlessly gamed the system from that
point forward. I didn't yet have the spell to put the wyvern to sleep,
so I made a sanctuary literally right in front of him and proceeded to
pop in and out to whale on his ass. If I got in a blow and survived the
round, I would retreat to my sanctuary for a nap. If I died, I would
restore. About twenty minutes of this led to a dead wyvern. I never
did solve the puzzles west or north of the ziggurat. After mucking
about in the maze and eventually completing one of the quests there, I
went back to my save, sleep, and restore method to kill spiders until I
hit level 5.

Did it amuse anyone else that the player can do all sorts of things at
the same time as he fights a monster? Even as I was locked in mortal
combat with the goblins, I was puttering through my inventory, looking
at this and reading that. *YAWN* Let me mark my place so I can parry
these four spears...

What's odd to me is that a lot of effort obviously went into this game.
The garden maze is all randomly generated each time the player enters,
and something of a programming tour de force really. Also, there are
lots of cool little simulationist interactions, such as spreading the
poison over a weapon to make it much more deadly. (Of course, it is
strange that the poision NEVER COMES OFF, but you can't have everything
I suppose.)

I actually tend to go against the popular opinion in feeling that a
simulationist IF RPG could work. We've just never seen one, only
simplistic systems. I would like to see a complex tabletop-style
system, with non-combat skills and so on, implemented as a parser-based
computer game. I think something pretty extraordinary might be possible.

Obviously, though, Tolti-Aph is not the game I'm waiting for.

--
Jimmy Maher
Editor, SPAG Magazine -- http://www.sparkynet.com/spag
Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

Tommy Herbert

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 10:01:06 AM4/12/06
to
Jimmy Maher wrote:
> Dan Shiovitz wrote:
>
> > I realize that tastes differ and people like different stuff in IF and
> > all that, but I think that The Reliques of Tolti-Aph is a very, very
> > bad game.

> I don't really disagree with anything that you said, but I still had


> some fun with the game in a perverse sort of way

My reaction to Dan's post is along the same lines as yours, but it's
more extreme. I smiled and nodded at almost everything he pointed out,
and when I got to the end I thought, "Well, if I agree with everything
Dan says, how come I enjoyed the game so much?"

It occurred to me that it might be my preference for writing over
puzzles, and my willingness to reach for the walkthrough. Certainly I
think Graham Nelson's writing has that kind of immaculate wit that you
get from Noel Coward. But although I was intending to play this game
the way I usually play, I did find myself being sucked in: quite out of
character, I worried at a single puzzle for a whole day at one point.

So not that. Possibly it's partly that I'm a relatively new player: I
haven't played any of the commercial-era games (I'm still on the
lookout for a copy of Lost Treasures of Infocom on eBay). And I don't
play RPGs, so this randomised combat thing is a novelty for me, and I
found the tongue-in-cheek way it was presented charming. But I suppose
that's worn off now, and another Wizards & Woodpulp game wouldn't be
that exciting a proposition.

I also think Dan overplayed his hand by saying "very, very bad game"
but then making points that were more like little tweaks to the design
than all-out attacks on the project. And many of the unfairnesses that
he points to are hinted in the text. I know what his answer would be
to this: puzzles shouldn't be based on ease-of-use issues but on
solving-the-player-character's-problems issues. I usually agree, but
since the game makes it so obvious that it doesn't want you to take on
the role of the player, and since it's so playful about making the
dice-based rules of the combat system transparent, I quickly came to
look at it as a device to be poked until I'd revealed the more hidden
parts of its workings. Again, I can see how this might read to players
weaned on Infocom: as Steve Breslin and others recently pointed out,
there was a whole era dedicated to knowing, sarcastic games that kept
pointing out their own limitations. Having missed that, I may be
better placed than most people to enjoy The Reliques of Tolti-Aph.

(By the way, while I'm bringing up Steve Breslin, I'd like to say that
the archaic spelling of Reliques is not only playful, as others have
said, but also a way of adding to the distance between the game's world
and ours - it's a long time ago in a country far, far away (unless you
happen to live on the island in question (Sicily, was it?)).)

Gary Leighton

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Apr 12, 2006, 12:19:57 PM4/12/06
to

Dan Shiovitz wrote:
> I've tagged this as an analysis rather than a review because it's not
> my usual game review thing. Instead, it's more of a "principles of
> craft in practice" game-design essay, using Reliques extensively for
> examples. I should make it clear that this is extremely spoilery and
> shouldn't be read until you've played the game.

[snip lots]

I haven't played the game yet, but after reading your spoilery analysis
I can't wait to take a look! Sounds like I'm in for a rough time, but
I'm afraid the genre really appeals to me. I wish there were more games
in this genre.

I'm not convinced that the removal of Undo and Save is universally bad
design though. I remember a friend of mine saying that he much
preferred Doom on the playstation over the PC version simply because he
couldn't save so often. It made it more exciting for him.

Timofei Shatrov

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 1:12:06 PM4/12/06
to
On 12 Apr 2006 02:55:03 -0700, "David Whyld" <dwh...@gmail.com> tried to
confuse everyone with this message:

>
>Dan Shiovitz wrote:
>> I've tagged this as an analysis rather than a review because it's not
>> my usual game review thing. Instead, it's more of a "principles of
>> craft in practice" game-design essay, using Reliques extensively for
>> examples. I should make it clear that this is extremely spoilery and
>> shouldn't be read until you've played the game.
>>
>
>
>You clearly spent a lot longer on the game than I did... not difficult,
>actually, because as soon as I found out that SAVE and UNDO were
>disabled, I promptly quit. If there was a list called "Things You
>Should NEVER Do In A Game", disabling SAVE would be right at the top
>of it. Disabling UNDO would be close behind. Disabling them both in the
>same game ought to get the writer lynched. The list would probably also
>contain things like 'random = bad' and 'random combat = even
>worse'. Stick them all together in a game and you've got all the
>ingredients necessary to make the poorest IF game of the year.

It is quite strange that the same ingredients make roguelikes so
addictive. Maybe RoTA shouldn't be played like IF, but rather as a
text-based RPG game implemented in Inform. Anyway, it was intended as a
tech demo, so it can be quite bad, but I think many people would
appreciate seeing even a glimpse of its source code.

--
|WAR HAS NEVER SOLVED ANYTHING|,----- Timofei Shatrov aka Grue---------.
|(except for ending slavery, ||mail: grue at mail.ru ================ |
| fascism and communism) ||============= http://grue3.tripod.com |
|...and Saddam's dictatorship |`----------------------------------[4*72]

Mike Snyder

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 2:07:21 PM4/12/06
to
"Dan Shiovitz" <d...@cs.wisc.edu> wrote in message
news:e1i6ot$qqo$1...@cascadia.drizzle.com...

> DISABLING UNDO AND LIMITING SAVES

> The most glaring problem in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph (not the worst
> problem -- I'll get to that one later) is that it disables undo.

I've snipped the rest of it, but for those just joining in, Dan's point was
that disabling "undo" and limiting "save" is a horrible idea, especially
since there might have been less brutal alternatives to still fit the
randomness of combat.

What I'm trying to figure out from my own experience -- and I agree that I'd
be highly annoyed -- is *why*? Is it because every move I make has to
advance me in the game, otherwise it feels like time wasted? Is it because
I'm a softie now, compared to my early gaming days? Is it because IF can't
be compared to video games? Why would it bother me, if this added to the
challenge?

In the 8-bit NES days, some of my favorite memories were spent on games that
had no save -- and certainly no undo. These were at times *frustrating*
experiences, but in the end it felt *good* to beat Ninja Gaiden, or Rygar,
or Mega Man -- none of which featured so much as password re-entry. Okay,
you could usually restart from the last level (I haven't played those games
in years -- I might be wrong), but dying meant replaying a *lot* and getting
better at it, and I'd often leave the NES powered up overnight, just to keep
from starting over the next day. Were these just the "bad old days" of
gaming? It would be shocking to see a video game without a save or password
feature today, especially ones of that size and difficulty.

Even now, though, I play games that limit saving (and there's still a
glaring lack of an "undo" feature in today's video games). Let's see... I
just beat Sudeki, and there are a few save points scattered throughout the
world. Same with the Mario & Luigi RPG I'm playing on DS. Same with the
Metroid series and Castlevania series on the handhelds. I'm playing Resident
Evil 4 now, and it has "area" restarts, with less frequent save points (and
don't even get me started about earlier incarnations of the series, where
even the number of *times* you can save was limited and had to be earned).
It seems like most of the games I've played recently fall into this
category, with save-anywhere-anytime being the exception. Even then,
reloading later is often a level re-start. Some of these games do have a
quick-save feature. You can close the Nintendo DS and suspend a game (I
guess for as long as minimal battery usage would last). I remember being
able to quick-save in at least the latest DS Castlevania, which let me jump
back in right where I left off (but the quick-save was then deleted -- you'd
still need to save "for real" at a save point).

So... hmmmm. Is it more fun to re-play parts of a video game, than it is to
re-read text? Why don't video gamers demand the ability to "undo" a
mess-up -- any mess-up -- on the fly? The new Prince of Persia series does
this, but even there, it's limited to a few seconds of rewind, and the
ability has to be re-charged (something like this might have been an option
for Reliques, which I admint I haven't played yet). Would Reliques have
worked better with save points just outside or near the "dangerous" areas?
Is it because we're so used to saving and undoing anywhere in IF, and the
lack of those abilities can't help but seem intentionally annoying?

I don't know. It works in video games, but it doesn't work in IF. Anybody
know why?

--- Mike.


Jimmy Maher

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 2:18:23 PM4/12/06
to
Mike Snyder wrote:

> I've snipped the rest of it, but for those just joining in, Dan's point was
> that disabling "undo" and limiting "save" is a horrible idea, especially
> since there might have been less brutal alternatives to still fit the
> randomness of combat.
>
> What I'm trying to figure out from my own experience -- and I agree that I'd
> be highly annoyed -- is *why*? Is it because every move I make has to
> advance me in the game, otherwise it feels like time wasted? Is it because
> I'm a softie now, compared to my early gaming days? Is it because IF can't
> be compared to video games? Why would it bother me, if this added to the
> challenge?

I think it's because in a game like Reliques there is no real skill
involved in the combat. You the the player are not honing your skills
to get past that difficult area. You are rather just doing the same
repetitive busywork over and over, waiting for the favorable die rolls
that will allow you to advance. Therefore it's just annoying, not
challenging.

Also, IF makes such tiny demands on modern hardware that restoring from
the sanctuary and getting back to whatever killed you is almost
instantaneous anyway, nothing like re-playing a level of an action game.
Therefore it still feels totally unrealistic, but still takes just
long enough to irritate. The worst of both worlds, as it were.

Neil Cerutti

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 2:35:04 PM4/12/06
to
On 2006-04-12, Mike Snyder <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote:
> I've snipped the rest of it, but for those just joining in,
> Dan's point was that disabling "undo" and limiting "save" is a
> horrible idea, especially since there might have been less
> brutal alternatives to still fit the randomness of combat.
>
> What I'm trying to figure out from my own experience -- and I
> agree that I'd be highly annoyed -- is *why*? Is it because
> every move I make has to advance me in the game, otherwise it
> feels like time wasted? Is it because I'm a softie now,
> compared to my early gaming days? Is it because IF can't be
> compared to video games? Why would it bother me, if this added
> to the challenge?
>
> In the 8-bit NES days, some of my favorite memories were spent
> on games that had no save -- and certainly no undo. These were
> at times *frustrating* experiences, but in the end it felt
> *good* to beat Ninja Gaiden, or Rygar, or Mega Man -- none of
> which featured so much as password re-entry. Okay, you could
> usually restart from the last level (I haven't played those
> games in years -- I might be wrong), but dying meant replaying
> a *lot* and getting better at it,

This is the trade-off, and maybe it's what Graham was going for.
You may develop mastery of a game when you have to replay
sections. This feeling of mastery comes from lots of repetition.
Frankly, most of the fun I have when I replay the old Zork and
Enchanter series, is that I have mastered them. Most of the maps
are in my head, the commands come easily, and re-reading the
re-read text if fulfilling some inner need.

> So... hmmmm. Is it more fun to re-play parts of a video game,
> than it is to re-read text? Why don't video gamers demand the
> ability to "undo" a mess-up -- any mess-up -- on the fly? The
> new Prince of Persia series does this, but even there, it's
> limited to a few seconds of rewind, and the ability has to be
> re-charged (something like this might have been an option for
> Reliques, which I admint I haven't played yet). Would Reliques
> have worked better with save points just outside or near the
> "dangerous" areas? Is it because we're so used to saving and
> undoing anywhere in IF, and the lack of those abilities can't
> help but seem intentionally annoying?
>
> I don't know. It works in video games, but it doesn't work in
> IF. Anybody know why?

It works where it is not common practice to do it better.

--
Neil Cerutti

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 3:03:33 PM4/12/06
to
I'm going to pick out a few points from this. They will be points I
disagree with. Note that I *agree* with the general tenor of your
analysis, except that (like some of the other posters in this thread)
I had a lot of fun playing the game, and (ditto) I would never have
called it a very, very bad game.

I think of RoTA as a careful working-out of some very, very bad
*ideas*. Graham's development of the combat/spell system, his
random-maze algorithm, and his integration of save/undo restrictions
into the story and setting, all gave me a lot of enjoyable gameplay.
What they *didn't* do was spare me a lot of frustration, as I bounced
off the beginning of the game about six times. I happened not to solve
the puzzle that gives you the first save-spell token, so I made a lot
of growly noises and quit. Eventually I was inspired by MUD chatter to
come back to it; I started by asking for hints, and then grabbed hints
copiously thereafter.

(I had trouble with the maze quests, too. Never did get onto that
island.)

So one point is, if you're going to violently shatter a common
principle of IF, you should at least have the guts to base your entire
game structure won it. :) I was actually happier playing RoTA than I
was playing the (saveless, randomized) combat scenes in _Beyond Zork_,
which felt like completely unwarranted intrusions in a
puzzle/resource-management game.

(Back to that maze: I think how much you enjoy it depends totally on
luck. But I don't just mean the luck of combat, which manages to
"regress to the mean" pretty well. It's a question of which random
magic items you stumble onto; whether you locate a save-point; and (of
course) whether the game completely screws you by running out of maze.
So it's worth considering how you could design something like this --
random combat and all -- which is *biased towards the enjoyable
outcomes*. Rig the magic-item lottery? Generate the whole maze at the
outset, and then drop the important bits into it? Note that this would
appear *to the player* to be the same game design; except he wouldn't
get stomped.)

And another point is, people play hard games socially. I think it is
possible to pitch a game to an audience which is not just the
experienced IF player, but the *community* of experienced IF players,
who will throw hints back and forth, make maps, write walkthroughs,
etc.

(This is a strange angle and probably deserves its own post. Is this
an expectation that the author needs to set? "Cruelty level: vicious;
be prepared to ask for hints!" Or do we (as a community!) expect that
we shouldn't be *asked* to rely on the community -- so the author
should always *provide* built-in hints? (How would you have reacted to
RoTA if it had a front-to-back dynamic hint system?))

> You can set the player a goal and say "hey, go do this", and you can
> set up a bottleneck and say "you can't do this yet". The Reliques of
> Tolti-Aph is astonishingly bad at the former. It's one of the few
> games I've played where the overall goal of the game (to become a
> level 5 mage) is only explained in an error message (if you try to
> leave the city).

I call that point. It's not an error message; there is no such thing
as "an error message" when the player is first exploring a game. It is
a response to something which the player can reasonably be expected to
try in his first few minutes of play: check all exits from the
starting location. As such, it's no different from setting the overall
goal as a response to "read diary". (And it's only somewhat more
passive than setting the goal as a response to "answer phone".)

I also think that having an explicit score (experience points, in this
case) is a reasonable hint that your *short*-term goal is gathering
points. (And the game does do an excellent job of showing you what
raises points.)

> The game is slightly better on the bottleneck issue, since there's the
> wyvern sitting at the halfway point, and it soon becomes obvious that
> you should work on all the stuff down below first and then you'll be
> beefy enough to take on the wyvern.

One player I talked to noted that the *first* plot bottleneck is
"figure out how to save!" (Although I think the game does a lousy job
of getting you to the *solution* to that particular puzzle.) You find
the save spell very early; it isn't called that, but the idea of
sanctuary combined with the response to "rest" makes it clear that
you'd really, really like it.

(He also noted that gaining the save spell transforms the "early"
stage of the game into the "middle" stage in a very nifty way. No
doors are unlocked, but your view of what you can do changes
dramatically.)

> But overall, man, it is honestly hard for me to understand why
> someone would release something like this, with design decisions
> that seem only there to be irritating.

Graham makes design errors so you don't have to? :) It's an
interesting game to play, and it illustrates a bunch of ideas which
haven't been done to this level before. (It will also be example
I7 source code once I7 is released, which is a value on its own.)

I guess I think of RoTA as "released for game designers", not for IF
players in general. Although that's entirely my own interpretation;
it's not Graham's description of the game.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
If the Bush administration hasn't thrown you in military prison without trial,
it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're patriotic.

David Whyld

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Apr 12, 2006, 3:42:39 PM4/12/06
to
Mike Snyder wrote:
> Is it more fun to re-play parts of a video game, than it is to
> re-read text?

I'd have to say "yes". Definitely. I'm not entirely sure why but it
*is* more fun to replay parts of a video game than to reread text.
Maybe it's the cool graphics to look at again, the sense of thrill at
seeing your two dimensional warrior whack that orc another time, etc,
etc, but it hands down beats typing in the same text commands and
reading the same text again and again. Maybe it's purely a visual
thing. I rewatch my famous scenes from movies again and again yet I
seldom go back and reread a passage in a book more than once.

Saying that, I hate it in video games when save is restricted. Anyone
ever play the Grand Theft Auto games, get 99% of the way through a
lengthy mission and mess it up, only to find that the game resets
itself and you need to do the entire mission again? Stick in a proper
save game feature and these games would really be as good as they're
made out to be.

David Whyld

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Apr 12, 2006, 4:22:52 PM4/12/06
to
Part of me actually wonders if this might not be a deliberate attempt
to write a game which includes every hated aspect of IF.

* It's got a maze.
* Save is disabled (or at least restricted).
* Undo is disabled.
* It's got randomised combat.
* It's got a wyvern (which is similar to a dragon).

Unfortunately it's got a decent parser so it fell at the last fence. :)

solar penguin

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Apr 12, 2006, 6:18:09 PM4/12/06
to

"David Whyld" <dwh...@gmail.com> wrote:

> Part of me actually wonders if this might not be a deliberate attempt
> to write a game which includes every hated aspect of IF.
>
> * It's got a maze.

I know I've said it before, but I still don't see why mazes aren't
fashionable any more. They were my favourite part of the old games. I
always looked forawrd to the maze. Maybe in a few years, when the
current fad for character-based, story-based games is finally over,
mazes will be back in fashion again.

> * It's got randomised combat.

Again, why the current hatred of randomised combat? Randomised stuff,
it _improves_ the game, because you can reply the same game over and
over again and never get bored because you get something different each
time. Comabt is always fun because you can see your score going up and
up and up as you kill more and more monsters. So why do comabt and
randomness suddenly become Bad Things when they're put together?

Ok, I can see why it doesn't fit in with the modern trend towards
character-based, story-based games, but those games just leave me
cold -- I always find myself going straight to the walkthrough so I can
read the story right through from begining to end without the game
getting in the way! No, for long-term gameplay, that will bring me back
time and again, give me a decent bit of random combat any day. And a
really good maze too!

> * Save is disabled (or at least restricted).
> * Undo is disabled.

> * It's got a wyvern (which is similar to a dragon).
>
> Unfortunately it's got a decent parser so it fell at the last fence.
:)
>

It sounds just like my type of game. Where can I find it?


--
___ _ ___ _
/ __| ___ | | __ _ _ _ | _ \ ___ _ _ __ _ _ _ (_) _ _
\__ \/ _ \| |/ _` || '_| | _// -_)| ' \ / _` || || || || ' \
|___/\___/|_|\__,_||_| |_| \___||_||_|\__, | \_,_||_||_||_|
|___/
http://www.freewebs.com/solar_penguin/


Jimmy Maher

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Apr 12, 2006, 6:23:26 PM4/12/06
to
Tommy Herbert wrote:

> Again, I can see how this might read to players
> weaned on Infocom: as Steve Breslin and others recently pointed out,
> there was a whole era dedicated to knowing, sarcastic games that kept
> pointing out their own limitations. Having missed that, I may be
> better placed than most people to enjoy The Reliques of Tolti-Aph.

Just a quick defense of Infocom: I don't see their work as guilty of
this on the whole. It was quite common in the work of others, and so I
don't disagree with the larger point, but I think Infocom generally
treated its work with more respect than that. There are of course
exceptions, such as a few of Meretzky's games, but in general Infocom's
attitude toward its work was one of the things that made them stand out
from their peers.

And now back to your regularly discussed Tolti-Aph discussion.

ChicagoDave

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Apr 12, 2006, 6:25:54 PM4/12/06
to
Having played the game and giving up rather quickly, I have to admit I
was little put-off by it.

But knowing Graham and what little I do about I7 makes me think that
the point of the game will become more clear when we get to see the
source.

I suspect the implementation of all of these horrible-at-game-time
concepts will end up being really cool examples of how to do hard
things in I7 easily.

So as someone else said in the thread, I doubt this was meant for game
players as much as for eventual I7 game developers.

We shall see.

David C.

Paul E Collins

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Apr 12, 2006, 6:47:41 PM4/12/06
to
solar penguin wrote:

> I know I've said it before, but I still don't see why
> mazes aren't fashionable any more.

It's not about "fashionable". Random mazes, and ones with some hidden
rule (e.g. the same location repeated until you try going
north-then-south), don't appeal to puzzle-solving adventurers because
they must be solved by guesswork, not skill. A maze with a deducible
solution can be fun, but even once you work out the rule, typing your
way through it can be tedious. (Photopia's maze is sometimes cited as
a good one because the solution involves lateral thinking and not
actually charting a route - but then, it's not really a maze for that
precise reason.)

> Again, why the current hatred of randomised combat?
> Randomised stuff, it _improves_ the game, because you
> can reply the same game over and over again and never
> get bored because you get something different each time.

But the difference isn't in what counts to most players (the logical
thinking and puzzle-solving); it's merely in a set of numbers on a
screen. Half the time, you die fighting the dragon, and half the time
you don't. If you don't, you have to do *the same thing* again. So the
randomness is merely a frustrating "will my theoretically correct
solution succeed or fail?" and not anything truly interesting like,
say, some future artificially intelligent game creating brand new
random puzzles based on some knowledge of how different objects can
interact.

> Comabt is always fun because you can see your score
> going up and up and up as you kill more and more monsters.

Well, if I just wanted to see a number increasing, I'd write a Perl
script. The only reason that I'm interested in IF games is that they
offer something that arcade-style games don't: a rich narrative and a
fairly boundless (because it relies on words, not graphics hardware)
set of things to see and do.

I enjoy old-style action games with random elements (Pac-Man, Space
Invaders) as much as the next guy, but that's because I find the
dodging and zapping to be a fun challenge to my reaction speed - can I
dodge this bullet quickly enough? If it's merely a case of taking all
the time in the world, typing the best possible command, and still
dying because of an unlucky dice roll - well, it just seems like a
waste of time, because of course I'm going to keep reloading and
trying the *same thing* until I succeed. I already know what to do,
and the game knows that I know, but it's still making me fail on a
whim. That's just silly.

Eq.


solar penguin

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 7:29:31 PM4/12/06
to

"Paul E Collins" <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:

> they must be solved by guesswork

Well, of course! That's why they're fun. They bring IF to one of its
purest and most fundemental forms: the guessing game. Guess the right
commands to complete the game and you've won. Fail, and you've lost.
Why does this suddenly become a bad thing when it takes place in a maze?

> A maze with a deducible
> solution can be fun, but even once you work out the rule, typing your
> way through it can be tedious.

Tedius? No. Typing your way through it is part of the fun. Just
because we _think_ we've worked out the solution, it doesn't mean we're
right. Testing our solution in practice reveals whether it works or
not. Typing in each command brings us one step closer to success or
failure...

> (Photopia's maze is sometimes cited as
> a good one because the solution involves lateral thinking and not
> actually charting a route - but then, it's not really a maze for that
> precise reason.)

Thanks. Remind never to try it. I'm sure I'd hate it!

>
> But the difference isn't in what counts to most players (the logical
> thinking and puzzle-solving); it's merely in a set of numbers on a
> screen. Half the time, you die fighting the dragon, and half the time
> you don't.

Only if it's a *badly-designed* combat system. A good one should allow
for other options as well as just winning or losing. (e.g. The dragon
is wounded, and flees before you can kill it. Or perhaps you flee from
combat, seriously wounded and close to death, so now you need to find a
way to recover quickly from your injuries and boost your strength before
you can return fully-healed to see if you can kill the still-injured
dragon this time, or maybe you forget about the dragon and look for a
weaker opponent instead...)

It seems a shame to dismiss all this just because there have been some
badly designed combat systems in the past.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 7:43:00 PM4/12/06
to
Here, solar penguin <solar....@tiscali.co.please.do.not.throw.spam.at.me.uk$

>
> "Paul E Collins" <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:
>
> > they must be solved by guesswork
>
> Well, of course! That's why they're fun. They bring IF to one of its
> purest and most fundemental forms: the guessing game. Guess the right
> commands to complete the game and you've won. Fail, and you've
> lost.

I think you've refined IF so purely that you've eliminated all the IF
from it. A pure guessing game has no model world, no semantic meaning
to its responses, no pattern to understand.

> Why does this suddenly become a bad thing when it takes place in a
> maze?

It's a bad thing in any circumstances.

> > A maze with a deducible
> > solution can be fun, but even once you work out the rule, typing
> > your
> > way through it can be tedious.
>
> Tedius? No. Typing your way through it is part of the fun. Just
> because we _think_ we've worked out the solution, it doesn't mean
> we're right. Testing our solution in practice reveals whether it
> works or not.

By this logic, randomized combat is the least fun possible. You
already know the command to type ("hit monster") but typing it in
reveals nothing. It may work or not, but that has nothing to do with
whether you've worked out the solution; it's mere luck.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

9/11 did change everything. Since 9/12, the biggest threat to American
society has been the American president. I'd call that a change.

solar penguin

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 7:51:09 PM4/12/06
to

"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Here, solar penguin
<solar....@tiscali.co.please.do.not.throw.spam.at.me.uk$


> >
> >
> > Well, of course! That's why they're fun. They bring IF to one of
its
> > purest and most fundemental forms: the guessing game.
>

> I think you've refined IF so purely that you've eliminated all the IF
> from it. A pure guessing game has no model world, no semantic meaning
> to its responses, no pattern to understand.
>

Re-read my message. I did say one of its purest forms. Not the only
one.

> > Why does this suddenly become a bad thing when it takes place in a
> > maze?
>
> It's a bad thing in any circumstances.

Why?

> >
> > Tedius? No. Typing your way through it is part of the fun. Just
> > because we _think_ we've worked out the solution, it doesn't mean
> > we're right. Testing our solution in practice reveals whether it
> > works or not.
>
> By this logic, randomized combat is the least fun possible. You
> already know the command to type ("hit monster") but typing it in
> reveals nothing. It may work or not, but that has nothing to do with
> whether you've worked out the solution; it's mere luck.
>

If I'd said this was the _only_ fun form of IF, then you might have a
point. But I didn't, so it's just a straw man.

Have you got any points that actually relate to what I wrote in my post?


--

jameshcu...@gmail.com

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 9:24:48 PM4/12/06
to
solar penguin wrote:
> "Paul E Collins" <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:
>
> > they must be solved by guesswork
>
> Well, of course! That's why they're fun. They bring IF to one of its
> purest and most fundemental forms: the guessing game. Guess the right
> commands to complete the game and you've won. Fail, and you've lost.
> Why does this suddenly become a bad thing when it takes place in a maze?

Forgive me for being unkind, but: Surely you're joking. What does it
mean to "bring IF to one of its purest [...] forms"? How is "the
guessing game" in any way a pure form of interactive fiction? It's
not that the randomization is a bad thing only when it takes place in a
maze. A guessing game is just *bad*, in the eyes of most players,
because in many cases it forces a player to do the same or similar
things over and over again for no good reason at all.

"Guessing" is about pulling solutions out of your ass. Most people
like puzzle solutions that make sense in context, even though they're
not immediately obvious.

> > A maze with a deducible
> > solution can be fun, but even once you work out the rule, typing your
> > way through it can be tedious.
>
> Tedius? No. Typing your way through it is part of the fun. Just
> because we _think_ we've worked out the solution, it doesn't mean we're
> right. Testing our solution in practice reveals whether it works or
> not. Typing in each command brings us one step closer to success or
> failure...

Success or failure - that *does not depend on our solution, but on
fate*. "Just because we _think_ we've worked out the solution, doesn't
mean we're right" is a feature of any puzzle-oriented work of
interactive fiction; it is not introduced through randomization. Being
wrong about a solution is not the same thing as being right about the
solution but failing anyway, to increase replay value.

> > (Photopia's maze is sometimes cited as
> > a good one because the solution involves lateral thinking and not
> > actually charting a route - but then, it's not really a maze for that
> > precise reason.)
>
> Thanks. Remind never to try it. I'm sure I'd hate it!

What a bizarre thing to say. You know you'd hate it because the
solution doesn't involve charting a course through a random maze? Have
you ever enjoyed a game without a random maze?

james

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 10:12:28 PM4/12/06
to
Here, solar penguin <solar....@tiscali.co.please.do.not.throw.spam.at.me.uk> wrote:
>
> "Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>
> > Here, solar penguin
> <solar....@tiscali.co.please.do.not.throw.spam.at.me.uk$
> > >
> > >
> > > Well, of course! That's why they're fun. They bring IF to one of
> its
> > > purest and most fundemental forms: the guessing game.
> >
> > I think you've refined IF so purely that you've eliminated all the IF
> > from it. A pure guessing game has no model world, no semantic meaning
> > to its responses, no pattern to understand.
>
> Re-read my message. I did say one of its purest forms. Not the only
> one.

I understood your message. I'm saying that your notion of the
essentials of IF are completely disjoint from mine.

(I don't expect anyone else's definition of IF to be *identical* to
mine, but if we try to boil our definitions down to essentials, the
results should at least overlap!)


> > > Why does this suddenly become a bad thing when it takes place in a
> > > maze?
> >
> > It's a bad thing in any circumstances.
>
> Why?

Because it's purely no fun. To me, I mean, but I'm answering your
question: it doesn't *become* a bad thing, it's equally bad in all
circumstances.


> > > Tedius? No. Typing your way through it is part of the fun. Just
> > > because we _think_ we've worked out the solution, it doesn't mean
> > > we're right. Testing our solution in practice reveals whether it
> > > works or not.
> >
> > By this logic, randomized combat is the least fun possible. You
> > already know the command to type ("hit monster") but typing it in
> > reveals nothing. It may work or not, but that has nothing to do with
> > whether you've worked out the solution; it's mere luck.
> >
>
> If I'd said this was the _only_ fun form of IF, then you might have a
> point. But I didn't, so it's just a straw man.

No. I'm trying to reconcile your notion of what's fundamental about IF
with the rest of your statements. I do not, at the moment, understand
how they fit together.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

Daryl McCullough

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 11:00:34 PM4/12/06
to
Paul E Collins says...

>> Comabt is always fun because you can see your score
>> going up and up and up as you kill more and more monsters.
>
>Well, if I just wanted to see a number increasing, I'd write a Perl
>script.

I don't have the URL, but I remember seeing a web site that offered
the ultimate fantasy role-playing game experience. The gaming interface
consisted of a single button to click, and a table of numbers labelled
intelligence, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, charisma, hit points,
experience points, and level. As you clicked on the button, those numbers
just went up and up and up! Good times...

--
Daryl McCullough
Ithaca, NY


--
NewsGuy.Com 30Gb $9.95 Carry Forward and On Demand Bandwidth

Daryl McCullough

unread,
Apr 12, 2006, 11:04:35 PM4/12/06
to
Paul E Collins says...

>It's not about "fashionable". Random mazes, and ones with some hidden
>rule (e.g. the same location repeated until you try going
>north-then-south), don't appeal to puzzle-solving adventurers because
>they must be solved by guesswork, not skill.

The very first time I played a computer adventure game, I actually
went to the trouble of mapping the mazes. I had to strategically
drop inventory items in order to know whether I had returned to the
same room or not (the descriptions were all the same).

I'm not sure if I would call it "fun", but there was a certain
sense of satisfaction when the whole thing had been mapped.

solar penguin

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 12:22:10 AM4/13/06
to

"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

> > >
> > > I think you've refined IF so purely that you've eliminated all the
IF
> > > from it. A pure guessing game has no model world, no semantic
> > > meaning to its responses, no pattern to understand.
> >
> > Re-read my message. I did say one of its purest forms. Not the
> > only one.
>
> I understood your message. I'm saying that your notion of the
> essentials of IF are completely disjoint from mine.
>
> (I don't expect anyone else's definition of IF to be *identical* to
> mine, but if we try to boil our definitions down to essentials, the
> results should at least overlap!)
>

Not really. You're a member of the modern school. (AIUI you could even
have a claim to be one of the _founders_ of the modern school.) You're
comfortable with modern fashions in IF. OTOH the last time I regularly
played it was as a kid back in the 1980s, playing adventures on a
Sinclair ZX Spectrum. (I also tried a few Infocom games on my dad's
Amstrad: Hitchhikers which I liked, and that one with the space-station
which I hated, oh and Zork III which I didn't even understand -- but
they were all so different from the Spectrum games I loved that I never
really felt comfortable with them.)

That was pretty much my entire exposure to IF for years, and set my
expectations of what a game ought to be like.

And then the revival of the Hitchhikers game on the BBC website a couple
of years ago gave me a nostalgic whim for the sort of games I played as
a kid. I liked the idea of playing the game online, and had a couple of
brief tries at playing MUDs where I quickly learned to enjoy random
combat, but decided they weren't really what I was looking for. Anyway,
all this finally led me to check out Inform, which I expected to be a
Windows version of The Quill. I certainly wasn't familiar with modern
games when I tried learning it, and had no idea they'd be so different
from the old Quilled Spectrum games I remembered.

So, given that we're both coming at this from such totally different
perspectives, it's not surprising our opinions don't agree at all!

> > >
> > > It's a bad thing in any circumstances.
> >
> > Why?
>
> Because it's purely no fun. To me, I mean, but I'm answering your
> question: it doesn't *become* a bad thing, it's equally bad in all
> circumstances.
>

Or "equally good" if you you like that sort of thing? :)

> >
> > If I'd said this was the _only_ fun form of IF, then you might have
a
> > point. But I didn't, so it's just a straw man.
>
> No. I'm trying to reconcile your notion of what's fundamental about IF
> with the rest of your statements. I do not, at the moment, understand
> how they fit together.
>

Ok, here's an attempt at explaining my position in more detail. When I
play games away from the computer, I tend to play a lot of card games
like patience or solitaire. I love getting out a pack of cards and
spreading them out across the dining table as I play.

It doesn't matter that the play is formulaic and repetitive (you'll
always have to do something like putting the red 9 on the black 10, or
move the ace into one of the stacks, etc.) because that's an essential
part of the game.

It doesn't matter that there's a random element from shuffling the cards
before the game started, because that just means you can play again and
again, and get a different game each time despite the formulaic and
repetitive elements.

It doesn't matter that it might not even be possible to complete the
game due to the random order of the cards just adds to the uncertainty
and unpredictability of the game as you have to guess what's coming up
next.

It doesn't matter that there's no characterisation or motivation for the
various Kings, Queens and Jacks, or that their actions don't form any
proper story, because that's not what people play cards for!

I tend to look at IF as a sort of patience or solitaire game but with
the cards replaces by text descriptions of objects, places and people.
But I guess that's probably a better description of the old games rather
than the new ones. Those old, treasure-collecting cave-crawls all
followed a similar pattern, just like all games of patience follow a
similar pattern. Just as finding a red 9 means you have to find a black
10 to put it on top of etc., so finding a key meant you have to find
which door it unlocked, etc. The interest lies in seeing which
variation on the pattern you'll get this time. (The big difference is
that these elements are being shuffled and dealt by the programmer, and
unless there are random elements in the game, you have to play a
different one to get a different variation.)

Of course, modern fashions don't follow this or any formula. It's like
sitting down to play patience only to discover that the number cards are
all missing and you're expected to act out a puppet show with the court
cards!

Hope that's explained everything more clearly.

solar penguin

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 1:18:21 AM4/13/06
to
jameshcu...@gmail.com wrote:

> solar penguin wrote:
>>
>> Thanks. Remind never to try it. I'm sure I'd hate it!
>
> What a bizarre thing to say. You know you'd hate it because the
> solution doesn't involve charting a course through a random maze?

No. I'm assuming I'd hate it because the description makes it sound
like the one in Artic's "Adventure A: The Planet of Death". I remember
that one well. It was the first adventure I ever played. I'd read
about them in magazines, and from what I'd read, I knew that mapping
mazes sounded like exactly the sort of thing I'd enjoy. It was the main
reason I'd wanted to try an adventure in the first place.

So, I played the game, found the maze, dropped the objects in the
locations, was really proud of what I'd acheived, except that I'd
discovered the maze had no exit. It was a completely closed system!
All that mapping was for nothing. No, no, that couldn't be right, could
it? Not after I'd been looking forward to it for so long. So I kept
on, and double checked, and triple checked, going round and round in
circles until finally I accidentally stumbled on the exit without
knowing how I'd done it.

I later found out that the secret was to move N, S, E, W in that order.
No matter where in the maze you started from, and no matter where you
should've ended up, you will magically be transported to the exit at the
far end. It was like the programmer was laughing at the players,
taunting us: "Hah! All that time you put into mapping the maze, it was
all for nothing! Sucker!!!"

So, yeah, I've had an unfair, biased and irrational hatred of _that_
type of maze ever since. Give me proper ones with exits that that can
be mapped, and I'm happy. Let the programmer start cheating like that,
and I'm not.

--

___ _ ___ _
/ __| ___ | | __ _ _ _ | _ \ ___ _ _ __ _ _ _ (_) _ _
\__ \/ _ \| |/ _` || '_| | _// -_)| ' \ / _` || || || || ' \
|___/\___/|_|\__,_||_| |_| \___||_||_|\__, | \_,_||_||_||_|
|___/
http://www.freewebs.com/solar_penguin/

** Protowall has been appointed as artistic director of the virus that
broke out after the bombs going off. We do know, however, that college
starts in the main terminal, and began again.


Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 1:31:15 AM4/13/06
to
Here, Daryl McCullough <stevend...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> Paul E Collins says...
>
> >> Comabt is always fun because you can see your score
> >> going up and up and up as you kill more and more monsters.
> >
> >Well, if I just wanted to see a number increasing, I'd write a Perl
> >script.
>
> I don't have the URL, but I remember seeing a web site that offered
> the ultimate fantasy role-playing game experience. The gaming interface
> consisted of a single button to click, and a table of numbers labelled
> intelligence, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, charisma, hit points,
> experience points, and level. As you clicked on the button, those numbers
> just went up and up and up! Good times...

You are not thinking of ProgressQuest -- ProgressQuest is a Windows
app, not a web page -- but same joke.

PQ goes to the extra effort of showing the spells, weapons, and magic
items that you're acquiring. They just keep on scrolling by as you
watch... and what makes it funny is, it *really is* kind of
satisfying, in the same way as a CRPG.

There's nothing wrong with CRPG as a game genre, and they do
traditionally have some IF-like elements in them. But they are about
pushing a button to make numbers go up. That's what you do. Completely
different goal from an adventure game.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

It used to be that "conservatives" were in favor of smaller government,
fiscal responsibility, and tighter constraints on the Man's ability to
monitor you, arrest you, and control your life.

Stephen Bond

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 6:09:11 AM4/13/06
to
solar penguin wrote:
> I tend to look at IF as a sort of patience or solitaire game but with
> the cards replaces by text descriptions of objects, places and people.
> But I guess that's probably a better description of the old games rather
> than the new ones. Those old, treasure-collecting cave-crawls all
> followed a similar pattern, just like all games of patience follow a
> similar pattern. Just as finding a red 9 means you have to find a black
> 10 to put it on top of etc., so finding a key meant you have to find
> which door it unlocked, etc. The interest lies in seeing which
> variation on the pattern you'll get this time. (The big difference is
> that these elements are being shuffled and dealt by the programmer, and
> unless there are random elements in the game, you have to play a
> different one to get a different variation.)
>
> Hope that's explained everything more clearly.

Yes it has, and thank you for posting it.

It's clear that you're describing a totally different medium from
the one I like. For me, IF is about exploring a world created by
an IF author. The world is meaningful: I have to discover how it
works, to come to an understanding of how it works. My actions
and their consequences have a meaning in the context of the
game world. My engagement with the game is semantic.

Your game consists of the manipulation of well-recognised
symbols in fairly predictable ways. Your engagment with it is
purely syntactic. It's a desktop toy, like solitaire. I'll call this
medium "Desktop IF".

I think we'd all agree that solitaire without a random element
would be the most boring thing imaginable -- and so
randomness is essential in Desktop IF. (Here it also differs from
regular IF -- I don't think randomness was ever seen as an
essential component of IF games, even in the 80s.) Either that,
or one needs a very large number of Desktop IF games to keep
the medium interesting. Perhaps this was the case in the 80s.

To simulate that golden age, maybe someone could write a
Desktop IF generator. It would seem that programming such a
thing would be straightforward. Give it a random seed, and it
autogenerates a map with a maze or two, a few locked-door
puzzles, a few treasures to collect, a few wandering monsters,
etc. (Note that this is not a game idea -- it's a program idea, so
I don't mind giving it here. The 'game ideas', such as they are,
are generated by the program.)

I seem to recall that LucasArts did something similar about ten
years ago, with the widely-panned _Indiana Jones and his Desktop
Adventures_ and _Yoda Stories_. I've never played them, though.

Stephen.

solar penguin

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 7:17:07 AM4/13/06
to

Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:

>
> It's clear that you're describing a totally different medium from
> the one I like.

Well, like I said, my description doesn't apply to modern fashions in
IF. Who knows, maybe given time I'll learn to like the modern style of
game. (Of course, knowing my luck, that'll be the cue for the fashion
to change again!)

> Your game consists of the manipulation of well-recognised
> symbols in fairly predictable ways. Your engagment with it
> is purely syntactic.

Exactly. But then, I love card games too, so it's only natural I'd love
other games which engage me in the same way.

> I think we'd all agree that solitaire without a random element
> would be the most boring thing imaginable -- and so
> randomness is essential in Desktop IF. (Here it also differs from
> regular IF -- I don't think randomness was ever seen as an
> essential component of IF games, even in the 80s.) Either that,
> or one needs a very large number of Desktop IF games to keep
> the medium interesting.

Good point. There was always a minor random element in my favourite
eighties games, e.g. the actions of the dwarves in Advent, or of all the
NPCs in The Hobbit.

The Acornsoft/Topologika games used lots of randomised passwords,
directions and magic items (with suitable clues to let you work out
which one applies this time). Those games had lots of ways to become
unwinnable, forcing the player to restart from scratch many times over,
so the random changes each time helped prevent monotony.

But yes, you're right, randomness wasn't _seen_ as an essential
component, even when it was. That's one reason why something had to
change. The genre had to evolve, and the modern-style game emerged,
with hardly any randomness at all. Personally I think it evolved in the
wrong direction. After all, the playing-card maufacturing industry is
still going strong, while the professional IF industry has disappeared.
Something must've gone spectacularly wrong somewhere...

Going off on a tangent: Did the decision to package Solitaire with
Windows have any effect of the decline and fall of the adventure game?
It certainly sparked off a craze for computerised card-game simulations
back in the early nineties. I know I stopped playing adventures and
started playing those around that time, even though I didn't make any
connection back then. Maybe other "Desktop IFers" did the same thing?
(OTOH there haven't been any others returning to IF after the
solitaire-simmulation craze ended, so maybe there weren't that many to
start with!)

> To simulate that golden age, maybe someone could write a
> Desktop IF generator. It would seem that programming such a
> thing would be straightforward. Give it a random seed, and it
> autogenerates a map with a maze or two, a few locked-door
> puzzles, a few treasures to collect, a few wandering monsters,
> etc. (Note that this is not a game idea -- it's a program idea, so
> I don't mind giving it here. The 'game ideas', such as they are,
> are generated by the program.)

The trouble is, such a program would be so different from modern game
expectations, that hardly anyone would want to play it these days.

That's also one reason why I haven't written any games myself. If I
write the sort of game I like, no-one (except possibly Paul Panks!)
would enjoy playing it.

--
___ _ ___ _
/ __| ___ | | __ _ _ _ | _ \ ___ _ _ __ _ _ _ (_) _ _
\__ \/ _ \| |/ _` || '_| | _// -_)| ' \ / _` || || || || ' \
|___/\___/|_|\__,_||_| |_| \___||_||_|\__, | \_,_||_||_||_|
|___/
http://www.freewebs.com/solar_penguin/

** He gets even further embroiled in Fizza's passport scam. It's the
only intelligence in the right side.

** The humans developed force fields to such an extent that they decided
to be received as the TickTockMan.


Paul E Collins

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 7:52:00 AM4/13/06
to
solar penguin wrote:

> There was always a minor random element in my

> favourite eighties games, e.g. the actions of [...]


> all the NPCs in The Hobbit.

The Hobbit's NPCs would frequently rampage around the map on their own
and kill each other before you'd even met them, often making the
puzzle parts of the game impossible (like needing Thorin around to
escape the dungeon). Personally, I see that as an annoying bug - even
though the self-motivated NPCs were impressive for their time.

> After all, the playing-card maufacturing industry is
> still going strong, while the professional IF industry
> has disappeared.

Hmm. I expect that most playing cards sold are used for social
gameplay. IF is almost entirely a solitary pursuit, whereas the major
computer games now seem to involve network play. That's one factor,
anyway.

> If I write the sort of game I like, no-one (except
> possibly Paul Panks!) would enjoy playing it.

Ha ha. Gone, but not forgotten.

Eq.


Paul E Collins

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 8:00:17 AM4/13/06
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> [ProgressQuest] goes to the extra effort of showing the


> spells, weapons, and magic items that you're acquiring.
> They just keep on scrolling by as you watch... and what
> makes it funny is, it *really is* kind of satisfying

There is (or was) a similar joke on DALnet IRC, where experience was
gained by idling (remaining in the chat channel without doing or
saying anything). A lot of IRC users seem to stay connected even when
they're away or sleeping.

Eq.


solar penguin

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 8:26:30 AM4/13/06
to
Paul E Collins <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:

> solar penguin wrote:
>
>> There was always a minor random element in my
>> favourite eighties games, e.g. the actions of [...]
>> all the NPCs in The Hobbit.
>
> The Hobbit's NPCs would frequently rampage around the map on their own
> and kill each other before you'd even met them, often making the
> puzzle parts of the game impossible (like needing Thorin around to
> escape the dungeon). Personally, I see that as an annoying bug

Like I said, it's possible to deal yourself an unwinnable hand in some
versions of patience. Is that 'an annoying bug'? Or is it part of the
game, so that the challenge lies in seeing how well you can do despite
this? (And besides, it's always possible to "cheat" by giving yourself
a grace move if the game is unwinnable, just as it's possible to use
Save/Restore if the IF game gets stuck in an unwinnable state.)

> IF is almost entirely a solitary pursuit, whereas the major
> computer games now seem to involve network play. That's one factor,
> anyway.

Interesting point. But is it really a big factor? Adventures started
to decline in popularity long before the current craze for networked
games. Like I said, it happened back in the early nineties, when the
craze was for solitaire-style card game simulations.

>
>> If I write the sort of game I like, no-one (except
>> possibly Paul Panks!) would enjoy playing it.
>
> Ha ha. Gone, but not forgotten.
>

How long before someone accuses me of being his sock-puppet...?


--
___ _ ___ _
/ __| ___ | | __ _ _ _ | _ \ ___ _ _ __ _ _ _ (_) _ _
\__ \/ _ \| |/ _` || '_| | _// -_)| ' \ / _` || || || || ' \
|___/\___/|_|\__,_||_| |_| \___||_||_|\__, | \_,_||_||_||_|
|___/
http://www.freewebs.com/solar_penguin/

** The prophets stand in the writings of Josephus.

** You have Lex Luthor in Japan, investigating a young man.


Paul E Collins

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 9:35:29 AM4/13/06
to
solar penguin wrote:

> Like I said, it's possible to deal yourself an unwinnable
> hand in some versions of patience. Is that 'an annoying
> bug'?

Well, it's a factor in why I don't play patience, but I think we've
just come down to personal preference now, so I won't argue over your
taste in gameplay.

> Adventures started to decline in popularity long before
> the current craze for networked games. Like I said, it
> happened back in the early nineties, when the craze was
> for solitaire-style card game simulations.

I actually don't remember a solitaire craze. The popular early-'90s
games that I heard most about were the cutesy platformers (Super
Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Commander Keen) and some early immersive
first-person games (Wolfenstein, Doom, and a more realistic breed of
car racing game). Then again, I was still quite young and wouldn't
have been using PCs for business purposes.

In any case, you're right that adventures declined before network
gaming was a big deal. Okay, I'll stick my neck out and suggest that
the reason IF is less commercially viable than heavily audiovisual
action games is the same reason that Dickens is less commercially
viable than Dan Brown, or Bach than Boyzone. I think that the typical
consumer favours an adrenaline-oriented quick fix over a careful
investment of effort and imagination - and why not, I suppose.

Eq.


solar penguin

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 10:00:29 AM4/13/06
to
Paul E Collins <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:

>
> I actually don't remember a solitaire craze.

Well, ok, maybe "craze" is a bit of an exaggeration. But for a while,
it seemed like _every_ computer magazine came with a floppy disk
containing an improved replacement to the Windows 3.x clock and/or file
manager, a screen saver, a couple of fonts, _and_ a shareware
solitaire-style or Mahjongg-style game. They must've been popular,
otherwise the magazines wouldn't've kept using them to attract customers
like that.

--
___ _ ___ _
/ __| ___ | | __ _ _ _ | _ \ ___ _ _ __ _ _ _ (_) _ _
\__ \/ _ \| |/ _` || '_| | _// -_)| ' \ / _` || || || || ' \
|___/\___/|_|\__,_||_| |_| \___||_||_|\__, | \_,_||_||_||_|
|___/
http://www.freewebs.com/solar_penguin/

** Cherreyh's universe needs to take you with me...

** He's a little cooked, but I'm Columbian.


Richard Bos

unread,
Apr 13, 2006, 3:14:00 PM4/13/06
to
"solar penguin"
<solar....@tiscali.co.NO.I.DO.NOT.WANT.MY.PENIS.EXTENDED.uk> wrote:

> Paul E Collins <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:
>
> > I actually don't remember a solitaire craze.
>
> Well, ok, maybe "craze" is a bit of an exaggeration. But for a while,
> it seemed like _every_ computer magazine came with a floppy disk
> containing an improved replacement to the Windows 3.x clock and/or file
> manager, a screen saver, a couple of fonts, _and_ a shareware
> solitaire-style or Mahjongg-style game. They must've been popular,
> otherwise the magazines wouldn't've kept using them to attract customers
> like that.

Mostly, they were just easy to program. I remember doing one in
GW-Basic, of all things, that could auto-play, and did so better than
anything I'd seen up to then.

Richard

Kevin Forchione

unread,
Apr 14, 2006, 3:28:13 PM4/14/06
to
"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
news:e1jiu4$7n1$1...@reader1.panix.com...

> I guess I think of RoTA as "released for game designers", not for IF
> players in general. Although that's entirely my own interpretation;
> it's not Graham's description of the game.

I guess this is the payoff for all those years of condemnation by IF gurus
of various aspects of game design. So the game is an appalling collection of
taboos, and yet it is a success? It "works" despite its use of mazes and
other reprehesible elements. So it seems that perhaps the lesson to walk
away with is not to pay too much heed to the hype. Though I suspect that
five years from now the old maxims will reassert themselves, after we've
recovered from a minor deluge of copycat games.

--Kevin


Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 14, 2006, 4:17:12 PM4/14/06
to
Here, Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
> "Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
> news:e1jiu4$7n1$1...@reader1.panix.com...
> > I guess I think of RoTA as "released for game designers", not for IF
> > players in general. Although that's entirely my own interpretation;
> > it's not Graham's description of the game.
>
> I guess this is the payoff for all those years of condemnation by IF gurus
> of various aspects of game design. So the game is an appalling collection of
> taboos, and yet it is a success?

I didn't say it was a success.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't subjected you to searches without a warrant,
it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're an American.

Kevin Forchione

unread,
Apr 14, 2006, 4:56:01 PM4/14/06
to
"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
news:e1p008$a5i$1...@reader1.panix.com...

> Here, Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
>> "Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
>> news:e1jiu4$7n1$1...@reader1.panix.com...
>> > I guess I think of RoTA as "released for game designers", not for IF
>> > players in general. Although that's entirely my own interpretation;
>> > it's not Graham's description of the game.
>>
>> I guess this is the payoff for all those years of condemnation by IF
>> gurus
>> of various aspects of game design. So the game is an appalling collection
>> of
>> taboos, and yet it is a success?
>
> I didn't say it was a success.

But you did enjoy playing the game?

--Kevin


Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 14, 2006, 5:51:16 PM4/14/06
to
Here, Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
> "Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
> news:e1p008$a5i$1...@reader1.panix.com...
> > Here, Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
> >> "Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
> >> news:e1jiu4$7n1$1...@reader1.panix.com...
> >> > I guess I think of RoTA as "released for game designers", not for IF
> >> > players in general. Although that's entirely my own interpretation;
> >> > it's not Graham's description of the game.
> >>
> >> I guess this is the payoff for all those years of condemnation by IF
> >> gurus of various aspects of game design. So the game is an
> >> appalling collection of taboos, and yet it is a success?
> >
> > I didn't say it was a success.
>
> But you did enjoy playing the game?

"Parts of it were excellent".

Look, Dan said it was a "very, very bad game". I mostly agreed with
him; I think it is not a very good game, but I enjoyed aspects of it.
Other aspects of it deeply frustrated and annoyed me. (But Dan covered
those in his post, so I didn't get into them.)

I spent a large amount of time while playing (and more time since Dan
started this thread) thinking "How could the fun parts of this game be
transplanted into a different game that didn't have so many serious
problems?" That is what most of this thread has been about, I think.

If you're asking, can a game violate all sorts of rules and still have
enjoyable aspects, then of course the answer is Yes. If you're asking,
can a game violate all sorts of rules and still be enjoyable *because
of the way it violated them*, then of course the answer is still Yes
-- but that doesn't excuse you from solving the problems that led to
those rules in the first place.

If you're asking, can I ignore all these silly rules (promoted only by
ivory-tower academic IF gurus, as we know) and write a great game, the
answer is no. Sorry. Wrong approach.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't thrown you in military prison

without trial, it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not
because of the Fifth Amendment.

Damien Neil

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Apr 14, 2006, 8:24:00 PM4/14/06
to
"Mike Snyder" <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote:
> In the 8-bit NES days, some of my favorite memories were spent on games that
> had no save -- and certainly no undo. These were at times *frustrating*
> experiences, but in the end it felt *good* to beat Ninja Gaiden, or Rygar,
> or Mega Man -- none of which featured so much as password re-entry. Okay,
> you could usually restart from the last level (I haven't played those games
> in years -- I might be wrong), but dying meant replaying a *lot* and getting
> better at it, and I'd often leave the NES powered up overnight, just to keep
> from starting over the next day. Were these just the "bad old days" of
> gaming? It would be shocking to see a video game without a save or password
> feature today, especially ones of that size and difficulty.

The difference is that an action game is about acting, while a puzzle
game is about solving puzzles. When you play Metroid, you jump and
shoot and roll; when you play Street Fighter, you punch and kick and
block; when you play DOOM, you shoot and dodge. When you play a puzzle
game (which "Reliques" is, as are most IF games), you solve puzzles.
Typing commands into the game may be the interface, but it isn't the
activity.

When you take away SAVE and UNDO, you spend more time typing in commands
and less time solving puzzles. There's no skill involved in the typing
(other than, well, typing), so there's no entertainment to be derived.
Odds are you hardly even read the text on the screen while replaying to
return to the point where you died last.

A well-done action game will *train* the player. Here's a path to run
along. Here's a weak enemy to fight. A sequence of jumps to clear. A
jump and an enemy combined. Several enemies. Several enemies on rough
terrain. As you progress, the difficulty slowly increases; fail, and
you are sent back to replay an easier section where you can practice
your skills in a more forgiving environment.

And that's why it can be satisfying to beat Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man
after countless retries, while replaying a dozen moves of "Reliques"
feels like a painful chore: You play Ninja Gaiden every time you pick up
the controller, but reentering moves into a text adventure is merely a
barrier to pass before you can start playing again.

- Damien
--
NewsGuy: Proudly turning customers into spammers.

Kevin Forchione

unread,
Apr 14, 2006, 10:30:05 PM4/14/06
to
"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
news:e1p5gk$fsq$1...@reader1.panix.com...

> If you're asking, can I ignore all these silly rules (promoted only by
> ivory-tower academic IF gurus, as we know) and write a great game, the
> answer is no. Sorry. Wrong approach.

Naturally not. But I do agree with your other points and I think that as a
community we've tended to lay down the hard rule (i.e. No Mazes) rather than
provide examples of where elements work (and why) and where they don't (and
why). I think that there is an opportunity to re-explore old territory and
revitalize it, rather than simply dismiss it out of hand. So it's important
to ask _why_ something was enjoyable, and how those elements can be utilized
in other games and stories.

As a community, we've posted tirades and beat these elements to death -- and
yet here is a game in which certain of these elements were quite enjoyable.
Now I wonder if we can come to understand why. And isn't it interesting that
there's still life in those old chestnuts yet? Art isn't simply about doing
something new, it's about doing something well. Perhaps we've largely
abandonned these structures, themes, and motifs, not because they're
tiresome and tedious, but because we're not gifted enough to do them well?
Again, I wonder if it is more acceptable, more respectable, to fail at
something _new_ or _experimental_ rather than to fail at something that is
well-established? Perhaps, rather than discourage the newcomer against
certain things, we should encourage them to *do them well* and to study
examples of where they *are* done well.

--Kevin


Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 15, 2006, 1:29:35 AM4/15/06
to
Here, Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:

> As a community, we've posted tirades and beat these elements to
> death

Cite, please.

You're asking for tolerance for cliche ideas done well; but it's in
the middle of a long thread in which we've been discussing exactly
that. (And whether it was worth it -- which is a different question,
to which we are *not* all saying "yes".) And my recollection is that
*whenever* we engage in these tirades, that exception is front and
center.

Here, I'll go look. Quick Google search on RAIF for "I hate mazes".
Top result is a thread from August 2003. David Thornley is writing:

> Besides, it makes excellent sense to have a rule like "No mazes!"
> Good artists know how and when to break the rules. Laying out the
> rule ahead of time will, I hope, discourage authors from inserting
> mazes into games without excellent reason.

Then there's a bunch of analysis from various people of why they
dislike mazes. (None of which, by the way, excludes RoTA. Graham adds
a local auto-map feature, which helps a lot, but it works flakily,
which detracts again; and the maze sometimes *doesn't have a
solution*, which is a bit of a disaster. This is not a maze that will
convert all the maze-haters of yore.)

(I found it tolerable for long enough to solve three of the quests.
That was enjoyable because I was finding some cool objects and (in
designer mode) speculating about the code Graham had written. Note
that I was lucky enough to find a magic object of nigh-
invulnerability, so the fighting issue had gone away -- if I hadn't,
the maze would have been the lesser annoyance. After three quests, I
nonetheless got tired of it, and stopped playing RoTA entirely.)

So what point have we been neglecting? Should we add an admonition
that using one of these old bad ideas is *not guaranteed* to
*eradicate* every trace of enjoyment from your game? I would have
hoped that was obvious.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't shipped you to Syria for interrogation,
it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're patriotic.

Jacek Pudlo

unread,
Apr 16, 2006, 8:26:58 AM4/16/06
to
"If the Bush administration hasn't thrown you in military prison without
trial, it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're
patriotic."

Andrew Plotkin

"He may look like an idiot, and talk like an idiot, but don't let that fool
you. He really is an idiot."

Groucho Marx

Aris Katsaris

unread,
Apr 16, 2006, 4:54:46 PM4/16/06
to
Jacek, the creatures whose existence in the sea is justified only via
the amount of fish they manage to remove from it are not called
"sharks". They are called "worms".

-Aris Katsaris

Adam Thornton

unread,
Apr 16, 2006, 8:09:35 PM4/16/06
to
In article <1144922951....@i39g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,

Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
>To simulate that golden age, maybe someone could write a
>Desktop IF generator. It would seem that programming such a
>thing would be straightforward. Give it a random seed, and it
>autogenerates a map with a maze or two, a few locked-door
>puzzles, a few treasures to collect, a few wandering monsters,
>etc. (Note that this is not a game idea -- it's a program idea, so
>I don't mind giving it here. The 'game ideas', such as they are,
>are generated by the program.)

If you want Nethack, you know where to find it.

And just in case you don't, it's at rec.games.roguelike.nethack for the
discussion, and www.nethack.org.

It's also a really, really great game. Not, however, to my way of
thinking, IF.

Adam

Gene Wirchenko

unread,
Apr 17, 2006, 1:29:25 AM4/17/06
to
"Paul E Collins" <find_my_re...@CL4.org> wrote:

>solar penguin wrote:
>
>> Like I said, it's possible to deal yourself an unwinnable
>> hand in some versions of patience. Is that 'an annoying
>> bug'?
>
>Well, it's a factor in why I don't play patience, but I think we've
>just come down to personal preference now, so I won't argue over your
>taste in gameplay.
>
>> Adventures started to decline in popularity long before
>> the current craze for networked games. Like I said, it
>> happened back in the early nineties, when the craze was
>> for solitaire-style card game simulations.
>
>I actually don't remember a solitaire craze. The popular early-'90s

I do. I saw Microsoft Hearts first in Microsoft Windows for
Workgroups 1.0. It could be played solitaire or networked. The
program was a showpiece for WfW's networking. Before that, there were
numerous solitaire games that I saw on systems.

>games that I heard most about were the cutesy platformers (Super
>Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Commander Keen) and some early immersive
>first-person games (Wolfenstein, Doom, and a more realistic breed of
>car racing game). Then again, I was still quite young and wouldn't
>have been using PCs for business purposes.

There were those, too.

>In any case, you're right that adventures declined before network
>gaming was a big deal. Okay, I'll stick my neck out and suggest that
>the reason IF is less commercially viable than heavily audiovisual
>action games is the same reason that Dickens is less commercially
>viable than Dan Brown, or Bach than Boyzone. I think that the typical
>consumer favours an adrenaline-oriented quick fix over a careful
>investment of effort and imagination - and why not, I suppose.

I agree with this. I look more deeply at games myself. Yes, the
graphics can be pretty, but do they help with the game? For many, it
appears that the graphics are a large part of the experience. For me,
they can be pretty, but their value is in helping to implement the
mechanics. If poorly done, they may get in the way.

When I was taking my diploma a few years ago, there were some who
played network games in the lab. It was officially not allowed, but
no one made a fuss as long as others could get their coursework done.
One of the games was "Urban Terror". (I think that was the title.) I
found the design of the neighbourhood and the interaction of the
physics to be interesting. Shooting? Boring.

There were others in the genre. One was set in a museum. I
wanted to see design and the fine-detail graphics of the museum. It
looked well done. The person I was watching play did not stop. He
was into spatttering the place with blood.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko

Computerese Irregular Verb Conjugation:
I have preferences.
You have biases.
He/She has prejudices.

Urbatain

unread,
Apr 18, 2006, 5:55:41 AM4/18/06
to
I'm making a really positive review for this game for SPAC in Spanish,
so, my posture is on the other side of the spectrum, so I think Dan
Shiovitz is wrong with his opinions and premises about IF design:

(please sorry my bad English)

Dan Shiovitz wrote:
>
> discussing them provides a great applied primer in Things Not
> To Do In Your IF Game. So this isn't going to be a review in the
> standard sense -- instead, it's a spoiler-heavy analysis for
> people who've already played the game.
>

Maybe Things Not To Do In You IF game for lame players with the
adventurer blood liquefied.

>
> DISABLING UNDO AND LIMITING SAVES
>
> The most glaring problem in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph (not the worst
> problem -- I'll get to that one later) is that it disables undo. I
> don't have much new to say here about why this is lame (feel free to
> look at my review of Negotis), but I do want to point out that this is
> a good example of how game-design elements interact. Normally, a room
> like the swamp where going the wrong direction kills you is no big
> deal -- you read the death message, type undo, and then go the
> correct way. But when undo is disabled, then going the wrong direction
> in the swamp is suddenly a big production, and you have to jump back to
> your last save point. Some people's reaction here is "Oh, but that just
> reminds you that the swamp is dangerous and you have to be careful!"
> These people need to be kicked in the shins, and laughed at the next
> time they typo "w" when they meant "e".

Maybe Dan prefers to make an undo on a combat death and annoying
himself dying every undo. Or maybe he think is better to experience the
re-death a-la-quake3 fighting against Xaero.

You die.

>Undo

You die.

>Undo

You die.

>Undo

You die.

>Undo

You die.

>Undo

You die.

He he! it's pretty funny and it's a quite better design decision than
remove the UNDO command.

Maybe we must review all roguelikes of the world as "bad designs" and
"bad games" because the premise of playing is to experience the
adventure without immortality like in the modern IF. I'm sorry but if
you has a basis and a plan, or a model world for a game, maybe you
don't like that model world where disable the UNDO command is
necessary, but to say is a bad design decision, is a wrong idea, just
because... YOU DON'T like the kind of game is no proof that the game is
so bad.

>
> Similarly, the game requires you to solve a puzzle (possibly even
> several puzzles) to earn the ability to save, and you can only create a
> savepoint a limited number of times (three, according to David
> Welbourn's detailed walkthrough). This does in some sense "fix" the
> first problem that comes up with just disabling undo, where people say
> "well, fine, I'll just save all the time then, if you won't let me
> undo," but this is like fixing a leak in the sink by burning down the
> kitchen.

Yeah! it's like it's your very subjective opinion, it's not a true
criticism for explain this is a "bad" feature of the game.

>By limiting the save command, you force people to replay the
> beginning of the game over and over again until they solve the initial
> puzzles necessary to save. Some people will do this -- when I was
> younger and had way more free time, I once played a game that had save
> *disabled entirely* -- but in general, every time you end the game
> and the player doesn't have a recent saved game, you're losing some
> noticeable fraction of the audience.
>

Again, to lose audience is not a valid thesis for say that a game has
bad design.
If you have a model world, the game design could be different from the
standard, but it's no a hint of bad design.

> The save and undo restrictions are presented as necessary in order to
> fix issues that would otherwise arise due to the random
> combat/skill-check system. In general, when you find yourself as an

If you don't like combat, or random behaviour, again... simply you must
not play the game, and the basis of the model world doesn't imply a bad
design. Simply ROTA is perfect in design behind the model world
described. It's just you don't like rol, nor combats, nor random
behaviour.

It's like Galaxians. Galaxians is not a bad game only because you don't
like the random behaviour of the IA of the aliens.

> author saying "well, I guess I'll have to make things more tedious and
> less fun for the player so that they can't circumvent this other design
> decision", that should be a big red flag. Stop and reconsider the other
> design decision -- is it really adding much to the game? Is it
> adding enough to outweigh the annoyance to the player? If you have to
> do it, can you minimize the annoyance at all? For instance, an obvious
> way to minimize the annoyance in The Reliques of Tolti-Aph would have
> been to restrict save and undo *inside combat only*.
>

YES! why not... let's not made again, never in our lives more IF games
with rol, or combat. Let's make Photopias clones that everybody enjoy.
Let's forget the audience that enjoy fantasy worlds with ogres, goblins
and such.

> Yes, they could still restore a saved game after dying and retry combat
> immediately, but right now they can do almost the same, by running from
> their last savepoint to the combat. And yes, they can undo failed skill
> checks that don't result in combat, but by my count there are only two
> of those: climbing the ropes to the archivist (which is trivial with
> the spell, and requires you to be level 5 otherwise), and climbing the
> outcrop in the river (which is a badly-done puzzle anyway -- more
> about this later). Allowing undo to handle these would be just fine for
> the first skill check, and would clue the author in that the second is
> poorly designed and should be modified.
>

Yes! why bother the player with dangerous actions? What's the true
meaning of adventure?

>
> BOTTLENECKS AND SETTING GOALS
>
> One of the most important things to keep in mind as an author is that
> players have no idea how the game is going to play out. They don't know
> what their goal is, they don't know where the interesting areas of the
> game are, and they don't know what puzzles need to be solved first. To
> help the player out with this, you-the-author have two basic tools. You
> can set the player a goal and say "hey, go do this", and you can set up
> a bottleneck and say "you can't do this yet". The Reliques of Tolti-Aph
> is astonishingly bad at the former. It's one of the few games I've
> played where the overall goal of the game (to become a level 5 mage) is
> only explained in an error message (if you try to leave the city). Most
> players are good sports and will wander around solving puzzles just
> because they're there, but this doesn't mean having an overall goal is
> unimportant. For instance, in this case, knowing you need to get to
> level 5 means you should try to get as many experience points as
> possible, which means you need to make sure to do all the semi-tedious
> things like making sure to cast each spell twice, and fighting monsters
> if possible rather than avoiding them.
>

Just I don't want to test if all this is false, but for me, and is a
personal opinion, it was clear enough that the goal is to reach level
5. For me always was pretty clear. It's a very purposeless goal, or a
unmotivated one... but this is quite overpass for the "resting in the
old sanctuary" plot, that in my opinion is the real goal, it's the
climax.

> The game is slightly better on the bottleneck issue, since there's the
> wyvern sitting at the halfway point, and it soon becomes obvious that
> you should work on all the stuff down below first and then you'll be
> beefy enough to take on the wyvern. But that's pretty much it --
> once you get past the wyvern the game will cheerfully allow you to
> charge into the maze despite being too low-level to take it on, or the
> Old School cellar despite not having the magic missile spell.

Yes a sign post in the top of the pyramid saying: left first, ahead
later, then enter the throne, and last enter the labyrinth; will be
quite better...

Maybe you should learn a little bit more about simulationism in IF,
rather than to-write-a-perfect-playable-clone-of-photopia. Maybe you
could learn that try and error is quite enjoyable mode in IF, or learn
the real meaning of the term "exploring". Exploring a virgin territory.

To create a fully explorable environment like a simulation is a
perfectly correct premise to design a game. But in your opinion we must
put old fat wyverns in every path leading to difficult phases of a
game. We must label games such Morrowind or Oblivion or whatever rol
game like bad games for this, where you enter a wrong dungeon for your
level and you die like a low level wizard you are...

It's a pretty good design decision to allow the players to enter the
labyrinth and die, and learn that, you must delay to enter that place
with better equipment, better spells and better levels.

> One of
> the major problems with Enchanter-style games is that the player can be
> confronted with a puzzle where it's not clear if the puzzle needs to be
> solved with clever lateral thinking, or if there is some specific spell
> that needs to be used that the player doesn't have yet.
>

That simply doesn't occur here in ROTA. The labyrinth is not a puzzle.

> Good game design in this sort of game means setting up bottlenecks to
> ensure players have a certain spell before they get to the part of the
> game where it's vital. One way to do this might be to get rid of the

Yes the fat old wyverns with different weaknesses for different
spells-keys to pass the fat old door.
Yes I see clear enough, you want a game made with door and key puzzles,
from start to end.
>
> This undirectedness is less of a problem for the game in the smaller
> scale, partly because the game handles things better there and partly
> because small-scale undirectedness doesn't stop the action entirely.
> For instance, there's no clue where to use the infravision spectacles,

Nooooo, noooo, you are ok, there's no hint about any darkness and any
spectacles not working in the darkness but that they are magical...
it's a quite good hint for me. Not for you? is an opinion, not an
objective design thesis.

> but, ok, the player can just wear them and wander around, and when they
> find out they'll find out -- not knowing doesn't block off major
> portions of the game. Similarly, it would be nice if the room
> description in the ziggurat mentioned that there are exits on four
> sides for dumb people like me who assume it only has a north and south
> exit, but this is something people will eventually notice on their own.
>

At last you recognize that you a are a dumb player for classical
adventures, so, just say, I don't like that kind of games and don't
waste fingers trying to teach us to make photopia's clones.

> There are a few decent bottlenecks near the beginning of the
> game -- the combat with the group of goblins is pretty much
> unwinnable without being able to cast make sanctuary and being of a
> certain level, so it makes sure those have happened. But overall, The
> Reliques of Tolti-Aph is a good reminder that authors have a
> responsibility to give some direction to players if they want to avoid
> player frustration.
>

Maybe you forget that ROTA is a short to medium game, so maybe there's
no need of give that directions in some games, because the player could
experience the environment on their own. Ummmm I think this sound
pretty funny!!!

>
> SUBSYSTEMS IN GENERAL
>
> This will no doubt startle people who have read this far, but I do like
> how the game has a number of interconnected subsystems the player can
> learn about. It is a cool idea to have both a combat system and a magic
> system, and the player and PC can get more skilled in each, and, best
> of all, they're tied together by different resources. There's a direct
> connection in that both magic and combat draw off the hit point pool,
> which leads to interesting choices to make about using magic in
> combat -- do I spend X hp casting this spell to possibly avoid Y
> damage in combat?
>

Wow! That sound good! Maybe is not such a bad bad game!

> Similarly, there's an indirect connection created because the magic
> system requires spell components and the combat system requires new
> weapons and armor. You can use the silence spell to get a new weapon
> and armor, and you can fight the goblins to get new spell components.
> This is cool because the rewards for solving a puzzle enhance the
> breadth of the player's powers, and not so much the depth. It's also
> cool because someone who's better at fighting can get further on the
> fighting puzzles and use those to help themselves along on the magic
> ones, and vice versa.
>

One of the better thing of ROTA is replayability and the opportunity to
solve some puzzles using brute force, spells, or puzzle solving.

>
>
> RANDOM COMBAT AND SKILL CHECKS
>
> The Reliques of Tolti-Aph gets off to a good start, game-design wise,
> by saying roughly "things are set up to be random, but in general, if
> it turns out you can only beat something by repeatedly trying, you're
> doing it wrong." This is a great principle for people who include
> randomness in their games, and it is too bad that The Reliques of
> Tolti-Aph so rarely sticks to it. For instance, take the fight with the
> four goblins: it's quite difficult (and unlikely) to beat them without
> running away mid-fight. So is the solution to assume you're doing it
> wrong, go away, and find an appropriate spell to beat them? No, of
> course not -- it's to run away mid-fight and retry until you win.
>

Tactics is named... some people consider this funny.

> Or consider the marsh wraith on the pontoon, where it's difficult to
> fight but there is a spell to beat it easily (satisfying the
> principle) -- but, unfortunately, a good portion of the time it'll
> kill the PC as soon as the room is entered, making it impossible to use
> the spell. And since save is so limited, people's natural reactions
> will be to shy away until they find the nonexistent other ways of
> beating the wraith or entering the room.
>

>From game logic view point this is a low point in the playability of
the game, but I found disturbing to dispel the wraith and have all my
strength points quite lowered. It's a strange situation from design
point view but it works about disturb and give sense of danger to the
player.

> There are similar miscues in the skill system. The outcrop in the river
> requires a roll of 15 or better, and there's no solution other than
> retrying until you succeed, taking damage each time. The werespiders,
> on the other hand, require a roll of 17 or better, and the expected
> solution is to use the silence spell. This isn't a totally exact
> comparison, since you have to make multiple checks to get past the
> werespiders, but the player doesn't know that initially. Another
> irritating thing about the outcrop is it can turn into a dead
> end -- if you climb up with only a few hit points (not unlikely if
> you've been repeatedly trying to climb, since the lack of undo makes it
> irritating to do otherwise), you may find yourself either stuck or
> dying on the climb back down, since that causes damage also.
>

There are vials... a sanctuary... if you have simulation this kind of
things could happen. This is were a resourceful player wins against a
dumb player.

The werespiders, I think, is a good kind of avoid a sudden death for
world simulation. And later you can come back, with more level, more
strength and take care of them. It's just cool. It should be worst if
the player get killed every time he failed to cast silence and awake
the werespider. It's a wise design decision. Pretty clever.

> Really, this is all a solved problem and has been for some time. The
> solution is, don't use random combat and skill checks because they're
> dumb. You can look on google groups for discussion from 1995 about
> randomness being bad. 1995! Over ten years ago! While it's possible to
> add randomness to combat-type situations in an interesting way, the
> trick is to put it in at a higher level, and create a dynamic situation
> for the player to have to react to. The success or failure of a single
> command by the player should always be non-random; the challenge comes
> from picking what the correct action to do is, not from retyping it
> until it succeeds.

That conclusion it's ok for a photopia clone, but not for a roleplaying
game with combat.
You must think that we, like authors, have the freedom for implement
whatever rules of chosen world and make it alive. So to judge every
model world vs Photopia model one it's just a wrong premise for a
reviewer. Just like you, to hide your IF taste behind a "clever review"
it's just not fair play.

>
>
> SPELLS AND SPELLCASTING
>
> In contrast to the combat system, which is fairly clearly explained in
> the about text and the game feelie, the spell system is awful to work
> out for new players. There's your journal, but you have to hunt through
> the feelie to find out the cryptic keywords to use to look up entries,
> and the entries are presented out of order, and half of them are
> unhelpful anyway. If someone is used to Enchanter-type games they'll
> presumably be able to work out >MEMORIZE and >SPELLS on their own, but
> then they'll be confused when it turns out you can't cast spells from
> scrolls, that casting spells drains strength, and that memorizing a
> spell means something totally different in this game.
>

You blame the game for have a different magic system than spellcaster?
You blame the game for have add ons to add atmosphere to the game.
Simply I don't understand you. I don't see the point of your review.

> It's absolutely vital that you explain major subsystems right off the
> bat to the player. If they're important enough, have a tutorial
> section or something, with a command summary in the about text. This
> is especially true when it works kind of like another system, but with
> important differences -- the about text should make the differences
> clear (though it also shouldn't *assume* people are familiar with the
> original, unless that's really necessary).

It was perfect clear for me.
Whatever, I remember that in Balances you could not cast from scrolls,
but you must inscribe them on your spellbook... and then memorize, and
the spells are forgotten. A pain compared with the ROTA system.

>
> Spell components are another good idea poorly implemented.

For it works, the limits, the restrictions, the pressure of fashion all
my wood, and run out of it.

I can't think a way to implement spell components in a better way. From
Red Moon to ROTA, all the implementations of magic sources are just the
same... I will glad to hear your alternative.
>
> The auto-selection of components to use up can be a problem too --
> sometimes I was annoyed that the game destroyed something I wanted to

He he, here you are, a angry player because evil evil game. I think
that's the purpose...

>
> The >SPELLS listing is kind of a mixed bag. I appreciate that there's a
> separate command to just list the spells, but it's just irritating at
> the end of the game to have inventory list all your items and then 20
> spells so the actual item list scrolls off-screen.

Yes. But, I can't remember any game that handle this pretty well when
you have more than 15 objects within inventory.

>
> Finally, I feel like the particular spells that were included need some
> editing.

Just, I can't see the point. If you have a world... the world has
magic. It could be pretty poor to put only spells and object for every
puzzle. I think is named red-herrings, that add flavour to the world.

But yes, maybe the labyrinth it's so easy sometimes. Maybe the talisman
must consume itself at the presence of some skeletons, that saves you
the life one time only. But ey! it's revision 1!!!

>
>
> MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES
>
> There are a handful of things I haven't touched on yet in The Reliques
> of Tolti-Aph that seem like they're worth some discussion from a
> game-design perspective. To start off with, here is the promised worst
> thing in the game:
>
> >PRAY
> You prepare yourself with due solemnity, and yet - and yet - you
> sense somehow that the proper words must be used, if the prayer
> is to be answered.
>

It's seems to me a parser problem, it could be pretty easy repaired.

> This passage also points out another irritating thing, where the game
> teaches you a spell without telling you that's what it's doing. Since

he he, I remember to be given a message about the gods prayed. So it
work for me...
But maybe is a little inconsistence in the game. Look, the model world
gives you the inner self of the rol system: you climb a rock, it says
that you loose one strength point. You fight, you see the all the roll
dice. But you are given a spell from the gods, and you are not
notified. Yes you are right, it's just a little inconsistence.

But for example, that kind of hinted information in rol games, it's the
best kind of design that I love. I prefer a message like: "You fell
more powerful", than "you advance to level 5". But in rol games There's
a tendency to literalize all the statistics and number and mix this two
approaches. I think is correct design choice.

> a new spell represents a substantial increase in the player's
> capabilities and probably allows access to new areas, it's very
> important to make it clear when it's happened (and given that The
> Reliques of Tolti-Aph happily tells you "You progress to level 3!",

Yes, you see, we are agree in this, but is not a thing to blame a game.

> doesn't print the quotebox. This is such a bad idea -- players
> have the right to see clues as many times as they want (in some

This is for free? :)

> there's a trap on the doorway, and then beat their head against the

Try and error is cool. So, why Trinity is one of the best games in IF
history?

>
> that it starts out badly. The first sentence is colorful but has no
> information useful to the player for navigation or getting their
> bearings, and indeed it mentions "east" and "west" but not as part of
> laying out what's in those directions. Obviously this is mostly a style

I enjoy concealed directions. I hate games when you always are reminded
of what direction to go. YOU CAN GO NW. BUT EY! IF YOU GO NORTH YOU
DIE!!!!
Here in Spanish community all games have a EXITS command. PUAJ!

>
> The maze is a big enough deal in the game that it seems like it needs

Well maybe because it's the "finish" part of the game and it must be
the most difficult.
And ey! I think that the Maze of the Royal Beast is one of the best
maze that IF history has seen. You have a magic map, it's a real
labyrinth. The only I can blame for is the 36 limit. the rooms runs out
pretty soon. But that is solved by the replayability. And you have 4
opportunities to beaten it.

>
> It seems appropriate to close this essay by talking about the game's
> ending. Man, what a lousy way to finish. First off, there's no "hey,
> you hit level 5, you win!" message when you hit level 5, or even a "you
> can leave the city now!". You just have to remember that's the point of
> the game, go back to the entrance, and leave. At which point you get an
> anticlimactic message about how you won, hooray, PS you're still kind
> of a loser. Gee, thanks. This is, again, the sort of thing that could

I repet myself. the lousy end is because the lousy goal of the game.
It's the same lousy goal of Adventure or Zork kind games. It for this
that Graham had included the skeleton in the tree and the climax of
Mutatis Mutandis.

> have been fixed relatively easily. The maze is already the hardest
> thing in the game, and the game already says that the maze was the old
> testing-ground for mages, so how about making the goal of the game to
> solve a quest in the maze? Put the you-have-won bit when you emerge
> from the maze, and it'll come at a point in the narrative when the
> player feels like they've really accomplished something. Given that
> this is a try-stuff-randomly kind of game you don't have to end the
> game there absolutely, but you at least have to make it clear that this
> was the climax, you've won, you can keep playing or leave the city as
> you like.
>

Your proposal sound to me pretty bad, because I don't like games that
tell me what to do, and when I win, or when I'm dead. Just it breaks
the mimesis for me. YOU HAVE WON it sound for me fatal in this game, I
prefer a lot to leave the place for my own foot and have a correct
message within the world described: That now with my level 5 I can be
proud with my friends.

>
> CONCLUSION
>
> "Annoyotron, Special I7 Edition" that'd be one thing, but as it is, I
> don't get it. Still, I'm definitely glad I've played it. Zarf's games,
> for instance, are not particularly useful from a design-analysis

And yes, to put here Zarf will not save you for a bad review because
you get frustrated with a game you didn't appreciate, you don't
understand, and you can beat smoothly. The worst of all is that Zarf is
bad example to argument your review because his games are the most
cruel and standard-photopia-model-world breaker of the IF world

Sorry if I sound so rude, but I cannot express myself properly in
English and simply I can't understand any of your arguments. For me
they are wrong from the basis. Because ROTA is pretty excellent game
worked over a W&W scenario.

See you.

El Clérigo Urbatain.

Magnus Olsson

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Apr 18, 2006, 7:14:41 AM4/18/06
to
In article <HUY%f.467$Jk2.126@fed1read03>,

Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
>I think that as a
>community we've tended to lay down the hard rule (i.e. No Mazes) rather than
>provide examples of where elements work (and why) and where they don't (and
>why).

Not to speak of the "No Dragons" rule. Which really should be replaced
with "No, Dragons Rule!"

:-)

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se)
PGP Public Key available at http://www.df.lth.se/~mol

rpresser

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Apr 18, 2006, 9:42:08 AM4/18/06
to

solar penguin wrote:
> Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:

> > To simulate that golden age, maybe someone could write a
> > Desktop IF generator. It would seem that programming such a
> > thing would be straightforward. Give it a random seed, and it
> > autogenerates a map with a maze or two, a few locked-door
> > puzzles, a few treasures to collect, a few wandering monsters,
> > etc. (Note that this is not a game idea -- it's a program idea, so
> > I don't mind giving it here. The 'game ideas', such as they are,
> > are generated by the program.)
>
> The trouble is, such a program would be so different from modern game
> expectations, that hardly anyone would want to play it these days.
>
> That's also one reason why I haven't written any games myself. If I
> write the sort of game I like, no-one (except possibly Paul Panks!)
> would enjoy playing it.

I'm hitting this a little late, I know, and probably someone has
already mentioned it, but Stephen Bond's description is EXACTLY what a
roguelike game is: random seed, maps with mazes, locked doors,
collectible treasures, random monsters. Not so? And thousands, if not
hundreds of thousands of people like roguelikes.

jameshcu...@gmail.com

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Apr 18, 2006, 10:34:04 AM4/18/06
to
solar penguin wrote:

> I later found out that the secret was to move N, S, E, W in that order.
> No matter where in the maze you started from, and no matter where you
> should've ended up, you will magically be transported to the exit at the
> far end.

Fair enough, I suppose, but you should be aware that the solution in
Photopia makes quite a lot more sense than that. Besides - it's only a
tiny part of the game.

It just irks me when people make that sort of smartass comment -
"Product A has property B." "Uh, thanks, I'll be sure never to try
product A." It's not even that Photopia is sufficiently good that I
feel the need to go out of my way to defend it, but more that you have
almost nothing to judge Photopia *on*.

Markus Zywitza

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Apr 18, 2006, 10:54:13 AM4/18/06
to
I'm not quite sure, but I wonder why Graham should make such a fuss
just for the sake of it. DM4 is full of hints about good game design
and I don't think he has forgotten all that by now...

Though I never played RoTA, from what Dan wrote, I think there are a
number of possible explanations:
1) It is the "Ruins example" for Inform 7, showing off new features.
2) It is just an experimental game (like Galatea - which I didn't found
very exciting, but prototypes always have flaws), mixing IF and
Roguelike.

So why not? Evolution is trial and error, but there is advance even in
error...

-Markus

Neil Cerutti

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Apr 18, 2006, 10:57:50 AM4/18/06